How a Former 'Jeopardy' Champion Was Instrumental in the Creation of This Site
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How a Former 'Jeopardy' Champion Was Instrumental in the Creation of This Site

By Dustin Rowles | Miscellaneous | October 8, 2013 | Comments ()


I’m sure we can all look back at our lives, and pick one or two fork-in-the-road moments that would ultimately steer you into your current life path. I have many, of course, but one of the defining moments of my career path can be credited to a former Jeopardy champion.

If you would, please allow for a little self-indulgence.

I came from a fairly small city outside of Little Rock, Arkansas. Aside from a couple of major league baseball players (including former Cy Young Cliff Lee, whose Dad was my Little League coach), the town was not known for much other than its array of car dealerships. It was a fairly poor town, and still is. The graduating rates are low, and the most of the people who grow up there end up staying there for the rest of their lives, often mired in a circle of poverty.

However, during my high school years, I was part of a Quiz Bowl team that would help to reshape the lives of its members. The team would win the state title, and eventually, rank eighth in the nation at the national championship that took place in Disney World. It was the first time I’d ever really left the state, and the first time I’d ever taken a plane. On the Disney World monorail, I also learned my first bit of Spanish (“Por favor, mantengase alejado de las puertas.”).

The team was special, however, because in a typical graduating class in my hometown, I would imagine no more than eight or nine students would find any kind of substantial career success outside of that town. But the members of this team, all of which came from lower-middle class or and even impoverished homes, would buck those odds.

Shane Whitlock, our team captain, would go on to win College Jeopardy and become one of the best known “Jeopardy” players of the 1990s, He also became a very successful radiologist, and I believe he was also on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” Another player, and my oldest friend, John James, would also go to medical school, which he paid for by writing trivia questions for other high schools around the nation, a skill he picked up from quiz bowl. He did not become a doctor, however.. He decided to be an Internet entrepreneur. In fact, it was when John and I were running our own fledgling start-up that I created Pajiba, nearly a decade ago.

Of course, after that start-up began to flail, I sold my stake in it in exchange for full ownership of Pajiba. Several iterations later, John would transform the tattered remains of that company into one of the most successful e-retail outlets in the country, Country Outfitter, which is basically unavoidable if you’ve ever been on the Internet. (The company also got an $83 million investment earlier this year).

Another member of that Quiz Bowl team runs the IT Department for John’s company, and another was Jeremy C. Fox, who was Pajiba’s first writer, and is now a staff member for the Boston Globe.

In an indirect way, you can trace much of our success back to that Quiz Bowl team, our coach Judy Parker (who flat out changed our lives) and Shane Whitlock, who captained our team to its success and gave us a taste for life and success outside of our town.

Shane would be an important part of my career again, in college, where I was an aspiring journalism major trying to get my foot in the door in the college newspaper. After several rejections, however, I learned that Shane was going to be on College Jeopardy, the first contestant to be in the tournament in the history of our college (and he wouldn’t just participate, he would win).

The show was pre-taped weeks in advance, so I took this knowledge to the managing editor of the college newspaper at the time, and leveraged this information in exchange for a position on the paper, refusing to provide the name unless they hired me to write the exclusive. It was the first of many stories I’d ultimately write for the college newspaper, almost all of which would get me in trouble with various factions of the student population, and one of which even resulted in death threats. The thrice-weekly column that I wrote for the newspaper was essentially the seed that would form Pajiba a few years later after I had attended law school (which I only managed to finish thanks to the financial assistance of John James, who loaned me some of the money he earned from writing trivia questions so that I could take the bar exam).

There’s a really nerdy version of Stand By Me buried somewhere in this story.

The point is, however, that I owe Shane Whitlock (and that quiz bowl team) a great debt that I could never repay. But, what I can do is encourage as many of this site’s readers as possible to go over to the “Jeopardy” website and vote for Shane Whitlock, who is competing with four other 90s champions to be the decade’s fan favorite and return to the show once again to participate in the Battle of the Decades Tournament. It would mean a lot if I could encourage you to vote for Shane. It’s one click, and there is no registration required. (And while you’re at it, if you’re in the market for a pair of cowboy boots, you could add a few bucks to the John’s pile of money by purchasing them at Country Outfitter).

Vote for Shane!

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Dustin, as a former Quiz Bowl kid myself, I was just nearly in tears reading about how formative that experience was for you. I can't explain what it did for me, but I grew up in a rural part of north central Alabama, and those of us who participated in (what we called) Scholar's Bowl have all gone on to different things with varying degrees of success, but thanks to Mrs. Gilbert and our other coaches, I got a scholarship for my first couple of years of college, and a perspective on life outside our tiny little community that I wouldn't otherwise have experienced.

    (And, I totally remember Shane. I was, and still am, a Jeopardy junkie. He'd have my vote anyway, but even more so now.)

  • Uriah_Creep

    I’d ultimately write for the college newspaper, almost all of which
    would get me in trouble with various factions of the student population,
    and one of which even resulted in death threats.

    Good training to face the Pajiba commenter hordes, then? Good to see you were always widly popular.

  • pissant

    Dude, I's not that bad of a place. They recently got an Applebee's, for Christ's sake.

    I was somewhat surprised when I stumbled across your email address at John James' e-commerce business.

    ...and the plot thickens...

  • e jerry powell


  • Wicked cool.

  • Corvus

    Oh, that's just ducky. I click a link to vote for somebody and instead end up spending money on new boots.
    Very spiff boots, to be sure.

  • RilesSD


    I had a Judy Parker as a teacher in elementary... Your Judy Parker didn't happen to be from Hawaii, did she?

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Nice story! I had quiz bowl adventures as a high schooler too, but since we were middle class white kids, it's a little less dramatic.

    I'm surprised they let a Jeopardy champ on Millionaire. I did the College Jeopardy go round, but that was ages ago (fortunately, your dude Shane wasn't the one who bested me; different year). I've got my postcard from Millionaire, but my 2 years in the pool are almost up (and it's Cedric the Entertainer now, bleah.)

  • Mrcreosote

    I voted! I made it to the finals in Teen Jeopardy auditions in Boston, but I was so socially inept the interview portion was a horrible failure. Probably just as well, because I would have Britta'd that thing hard.

  • bastich

    Is it true that Trebek would throw you out himself if you ask for a vowel during the show?

  • Mrcreosote

    Well, the PAs were absolute bastards, but they were dealing with teen agers who were also some of the most needy and annoying people...IN THE WORLD!!

  • bastich

    Nothing in your post was in the form of a question!

    Have you learned nothing from your friend, sir?

  • casagomezgirl

    Go Shane!! I gladly voted. The closest they ever let me to the Quiz Bowl team was to guard the doors of the auditorium during one of the state tournaments. Even with the cesspool of worthless knowledge I have floating around in my head, I was no match for these guys - The one practice session I attended showed me that.

  • Libby

    I voted! As someone who grew up in a small town in Arkansas and now lives in Little Rock, I love seeing stories about people from a small town who have become successful.

  • TheEmpress

    What a cool story! I voted for Shane

    I'm currently waiting for a callback from Jeopardy after my final audition. I have 7 months left of an 18 month window. For some reason, this story makes me hate waiting (and Alex Trebek) a little less today.

  • Gord Reid

    I had my audition in March, also am patiently waiting my callback.

    Until I get the invite to California, I have to resort to Jeopardy!-bullying my family when we watch, and alpha male taunting the TV contestants when I answer questions they whiff on.

  • Dustin has ricin stashed behind every outlet in his home.

    Voted. Nice piece.

  • frank247

    With great pleasure, I have voted.

  • Becks

    So you allowed yourself to be bought out of a company that went on to be wildly successful without you? Has this decision manifested into a burning, fiery resentment that lies barely dormant under a facade of normalcy? You would tell us if you'd broken bad, right?

    Oh, and I voted for your friend.

  • Drake

    I did that too. The regret does fade over the years.

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