TU Law Professor in Legal "Jeopardy" on May 2 Million-Dollar Tourney Broadcast

Wednesday, April 24, 2002

Published on 4/25/02

She wasn't one of the show's biggest money winners, but three previous appearances on Jeopardy had made Kate Waits, associate professor at The University of Tulsa College of Law, an audience favorite. So when the producers sought out 15 past champions for their Million Dollar Masters' Tournament, Waits was invited to make her fourth Jeopardy visit in 15 years.

She first appeared on the show in 1987 and became a four-day champ. She returned as a semifinalist in the 1988 Tournament of Champions and for Super Jeopardy 1990, winning almost $60,000 in her combined appearances.

The 2002 tournament had a different spin. "These were the champions people remembered," Waits said, "the most memorable personalities." Contestants included a blind man who had trounced his competition five days straight; and the six-foot, six-inch New York police officer with the Fu Manchu mustache who had the highest five-day total in the show's history.

Hardly a shy violet, Waits guesses that her selection was based on her ability to be both knowledgeable and lively. Also, she had engaged in back-and-forth banter with the show's answer-and-question host, Alex Trebeck – something audiences enjoyed.

Sports and movies were her strongest categories; pop culture and science, her most feared. "Pop culture has changed a lot since I was first on the show," Waits said, "the younger contestants definitely had the advantage there." Admittedly never speedy on the buzzer, Waits, now 51, adds, "the passage of time sure hasn't helped. I couldn't believe how fast some of the contestants were, especially the Nintendo generation."

Her opponents – a mix of lawyers, educators, writers and others – displayed "an unbelievable level of knowledge," she said. The writers tried to include some impossible questions, but at least one contestant knew the answer to each one, from arts to zinc.

Rather than feeling competitive, the 15 men and women bonded as a group. As one of Waits' competitors noted, "It felt great to be with 14 other people who, when you said you were reading 'The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire' for enjoyment, didn't think that was weird."

Her New York adventure included her husband, Martin Belsky, dean of the TU law school; TU professor Elana Newman, on leave in New York to oversee a project about Ground Zero; and a film crew from Channel 8, including reporter Mark Bradshaw.

Waits' appearance will air at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 2, on KTUL-Channel 8. She will host a watch party at The Hut in the Allen Chapman Activity Center on the TU campus, starting about 4 p.m. that day.

How did she do on the show? That's one answer she can't question.