Meet Julia Collins, Jeopardy! Champion and North Shore Native

Julia Collins took the North Shore’s nerd quotient to a whole new level recently when she became most winning woman in Jeopardy! history.

She’s won a streak of 10 games, surpassing Stephanie Jass, who previously held the record of seven games. Collins is only the fourth person in Jeopardy! history to win 10 or more games. Her winnings total $220,610, so she’s close to eclipsing the earnings record of another winning woman, Larissa Kelly, who won $222,597. Following the two-week “Battle of the Decades,” Collins will appear on Jeopardy! again on Monday, May 19 at 2:30 p.m. CST.

A little background on “the champ”: The 31-year-old grew up in Kenilworth, majored in history and art history at Wellesley College, and earned a master’s from MIT. She’s currently pursuing a career in supply chain management.

Former MIB senior editor Liz Logan is one of Collins’ closest friends, so she sat down with the winning woman to chat about her Jeopardy! experience, her winning secrets and growing up on the North Shore.

Make It Better: Congrats on your success so far, Julia! What’s it like to have Alex Trebek called you “champ”?!

Julia Collins: One of the perks of being a returning champion is that everyone who works on the show behind-the-scenes calls you champ. It’s a really fun, special part of the experience. And it was extra fun when Alex Trebek called me that, because I don’t think he does that very often!

I know being on Jeopardy! has been your dream for a long time. When did you first get interested in it?

I wanted to be on the show since I started watching it, at about age 9. It was on at 3:30, so I used to watch after school. I felt like I was pretty good at it and I thought it was pretty interesting. It’s another way for me to learn new things. I had an idle wish to be on the show, but then I found out a few years ago that they introduced an online test you can take to try out, so I did that.

Anything weird about being a Jeopardy! champion?

The Internet feels free to comment on anything that anybody on TV does. It’s a little weird when it happens to you. I’ve been live-tweeting my Jeopardy appearances, when the show airs on the East Coast. I’ve already gotten 1,500 followers, in two weeks—I guess people are really interested! I’ve been getting a lot of Facebook messages and friend requests, and it’s a little strange because I don’t know these people.

Were you super nervous when you first went on? What did you do a stay calm?

When I got called to be on the show, I was really excited and I had about five weeks before I actually went in for the taping. I spent a fair amount of time studying, which helped me feel prepared and in control of the situation. You also get to practice standing up there and pushing the buzzer, so that helped. But I was still nervous.

Once I won one show, I had pretty much exceeded my expectations for the experience. It’s so exciting when you win. I just thought, OK, I’m a winner; I can always tell people I was a Jeopardy! champion, and that eased some of the pressure. Also, the show tapes five episodes a day, so there’s not a lot of time to get into your head too much. It’s a whirlwind.

A lot of contestants hit the buzzer and then they just freeze. What’s your secret?

Actually, buzzing in and then not being able to come up with the answer does happen to me. There was a question about Ireland, and I thought, I know this, everybody knows this, and then I buzzed in and said the wrong thing: St. Francis instead of St. Patrick. The critical thing is not letting a wrong answer spook you or get you off your game.

Do you have a favorite category that you knew you were totally going to dominate?

I love any categories about literature and children’s literature. I think there was a category that was food and book titles (“James and the Giant Peach,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” etc.) and that was fun. I read a lot, and I read so much as a child that I feel like I’ve covered the canon of children’s literature.

You haven’t gotten many answers wrong, but is there any one that you’re really kicking yourself over?

There was a question that involved looking at a picture of a Florentine sculpture. The sculptor I immediately associate with Florence is Da Vinci, but looking at the picture, it was clearly a Michelangelo sculpture. But I didn’t look close enough, I answered too quickly and I said Da Vinci. As I was saying it, I knew it was wrong. I was an art history major! I know this stuff! But there are those moments where you just kind of blow it.

You are the most voracious reader I know. What’s the best book you’ve read lately?

I’m going to go with everybody’s favorite: “The Goldfinch.” I read Donna Tartt‘s previous two books, so I was looking forward to this one. She’s such a great storyteller. Even though it’s 800 pages long, at the end I wished that I hadn’t read it yet, so I could read it again for the first time. Right now I’m reading “The Hare with Amber Eyes.”

I know you’re very proud and fond of your North Shore upbringing. What was the best part of growing up in Kenilworth?

There were a lot of wonderful things: going to [The Joseph] Sears School, playing park district sports, being in Girl Scouts. I did all the little activities, like being a hall monitor, shelving books in the library, etc. Taking an active role in your community was very important, and everybody was really engaged in the community. And, I loved being able to ride my bike everywhere—to friend’s houses, to the beach.

What are you planning to do with your winnings?

I want to take more baking classes (you can see the picture of my decorated cake on Twitter) and travel. I will probably save and invest most of my winnings, but I’m considering treating at least some of my winnings as a windfall to really have fun with! This is a perfect opportunity to take a dream vacation, like moving to another country for a month or checking some things off my travel bucket list.

Congrats on your success, Julia, and best of luck in your next game!