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VUSN Student Molly LaLonde Wins on Jeopardy!

Molly Landonde - Jeopardy

Everyone has something that they dream of doing. For some people it’s travel; for others, something adventurous like skydiving or owning a fancy car. My dream for as long as I can remember has been to be a contestant on Jeopardy!. Given my long history as a trivia fan, a lover of factoids and, let’s face it, a bit of a know-it-all, I suppose it was a natural desire.  While it is obvious that every Trivial Pursuit game and every high school academic team round I played brought me one step closer to answering in the form of a question on TV, I didn’t realize just how much nursing school would contribute to my success on the show.

After learning that I was going to be on Jeopardy!, the question (rather than the answer in the form of a question) became how to prepare for the show. My study skills were well honed from school but, unfortunately, my physical assessment skills and differential diagnoses were not going to be much help on a show that can ask you about anything from capitals to composters. Even after checking out one of the stranger collections of books I’ve ever taken out from the library (A picture book about the African capitals? Check. A single book summarizing world mythology? Done. A children’s book about the presidents? Why not?).

At the time, I was driving to my clinical site in Kentucky and was desperately trying to find something to help pass the time during my hour and fifteen-minute drive each way. An accidental stop down an aisle I usually pass helped me find what may have been the greatest help of all – a huge collection of books and lectures on CD. I was able to pass my long drive by listening to all of Shakespeare’s plays, listening to lectures on the Bible and an overview of American History.

When I arrived in California and walked on the set, I think I finally appreciated one of the unwritten lessons of nursing school, which is how to appear confident while actually being completely freaked out about something you are about to do. You quickly learn that you’re walking into a patient’s room to start an IV or insert a catheter, you have to mask your fear with a smile and hide your shaking hands through sheer willpower or the patient will send you packing before you can even begin. As the show began, I put on my fear-masking smile, gripped my buzzer as tightly as possible and got ready to take on the competition instead of demonstrating my technical nursing skills.

It’s hard to describe how it felt actually playing the game. It is a little bit of a dream (playing a game you’ve loved since childhood and having the chance to win free money) combined with a little bit of a nightmare (standing in front of a crowd of strangers with bright lights and a camera on you). The game is fast and buzzing in to answer questions is much, much harder than it looks when you watch at home (and it takes a good chunk of your brain power).

I’m not sure if my heart stopped racing until the moment when I realized that I won. My heart started racing again because the film five episodes each day and if you win, you run off stage, change your clothes and run back on to play the next game.

The categories on Jeopardy! can make or break you, but it’s not always the ones that you expect. I almost laughed when the category of my home state, “Nevada”, came up but then I only got one question in that category. I was less enthusiastic when “Caribbean Cooking” came up as a category, but the game showed me that I have a deep, hidden reservoir of knowledge about Caribbean cuisine (and can also now justify all of the Top Chef I’ve watched in my life). When the category, “Glands and Organs” came up, I reasoned that I would probably either do really well or embarrass myself to the point where VUSN would be checking to see if I needed a remedial anatomy andphysiology course. Thankfully, I ended up answering every question in that category, which was great for me and will also likely be reassuring to any patients that I treat in the future.

I had an amazing time filming the show but one of the worst parts was taping the show in February and learning that it wouldn’t air until June. Fortunately, I had my pediatric specialty year, as well as the clinicals that go with it, to distract me. By the time June arrived, the show almost felt like something I dreamed up but the minute I turned on the show and saw the camera pan up to my face (with my fear-masking smile that I noticed slipped just a little bit). At that moment it became very real.

While winning (and winning money, at that) was great, one of the best things about the whole experience was the support I received from my friends, family, distant acquaintances who came out of the woodwork when they saw me on TV and the nursing school. It was also a rare experience where I could actually see how some of the decisions I made in life, from what I studied as an undergraduate to where I chose to travel to going to nursing school, helped me answer a question.

As nursing school helped me succeed on Jeopardy!, I also think that my experience on the show will help me as I enter the workforce as a pediatric nurse practitioner after graduating in August. If nothing else, the show gave me an interesting fact to include on my resume for the rest of my life, but it also made me feel confident about my own knowledge (however esoteric it may be) and my ability to express it as I start anew in a field where it can be easy to feel like you know nothing. It also doesn’t hurt that my time on Jeopardy! may help me tackle one thing that all new nurses fear more than just about anything else: student loans.


Editor’s Note: Molly appeared on five nights of the show which aired in June.  She won four consecutive nights and her winnings totaled $55,300.

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