When it comes to academic competition, Jim Scott has enjoyed more than his share of success.
At Wilde Lake High School he was on the "It's Academic" team that won two consecutive championships. And as a senior, both he and his school math team were named county math champs.
He went on to the University of Virginia, where he joined the college bowl team.
But nothing could match competing on "Jeopardy!" where Scott last year won enough games to qualify for the show's annual Tournament of Champions.
So far, his knowledge has made the 22-year-old Columbia resident at least $55,000 richer.
"It's nice whenyou are in your fourth year of college and you are out in a restaurant eating and you know that you can eat that fourth appetizer. It helps keep the wolf away from the door," said Scott with a laugh.
Since graduating from college in May, he has lived in Running Brook withhis parents, Tom and Ginger Scott, and is working part time while searching for a job as a legal assistant.
When the national TV show begins airing the three semifinal competitions in the tournament tomorrow night, we'll learn whether Scott has been able to cash in further on his academic acumen. He won $49,300 in regular games and $1,000 in a quarterfinal game that aired Friday night, and he is guaranteed at least $5,000 simply by appearing in Monday's semifinal.
Scott has a crack at winning $100,000 if he comes through the three semifinal games. The program was taped 2 1/2 months ago, but game rules require that competitors not disclose results prior to airing, and Scott is keeping mum.
His involvement with "Jeopardy!" started in the summer of 1989 when he responded to a contestant search by sending 300 postcards to the show.
A few weeks later, Scott was called to the WMAR-Channel 2 studio in Baltimore to take a 50-question test. It was graded as the 75 contenders waited and watched an old "Jeopardy!" show. He was one of seven who passed. The test was immediately followed by a mock competition.
"They ask you to say a few things about yourself," Scott said. "They want to see how articulate you are." Scott qualified.
In preparation for his appearance, a dictionary on cultural literacy became his bible.
"I carried it to the library, swimming pool and everywhere" -- though in retrospect, he believes "everything that I know, I had probably learned long before."
It wasn't until the following June that Scott was summoned to Los Angeles to appear on the show and flew to California at his own expense.
Although he admitted to some pregame jitters, Scott said "It was a matter of being able to put my mind over matter. . . . I didn't think about the money when I was competing; I wanted to win -- to prove that I could do it."
The show taped four games in one day and Scott won themall.
"But I couldn't see why I couldn't have won -- I played by the rules and I ended up winning. That was logical," he said matter-of-factly.
The wins were not without some frustration, however.
Scott bemoaned the difficulty in hitting the electric buzzer at just the right moment -- "If you hit it too soon, you can lose thousands ofdollars" -- and of the frustration of not always knowing the answer.
"I lost $3,000 on a Daily Double, because I didn't know the city in Kansas where Eisenhower was born. The answer is Abilene; I will forever remember that," he said.
He also had to return to Californiaat his own expense two weeks later to play a fifth game, which he also won.
"It was a decent investment," he said.
He returned to the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville to discover he had become a minor celebrity.
"After it aired on TV, I couldn't walk50 feet without someone congratulating me. I loved the attention . .. my 15 minutes of fame was fun," he said.
His five consecutive wins came during the "Jeopardy!" 1990-1991 season, qualifying him for the annual Tournament of Champions. The competition is designated fora variety of "Jeopardy!" contenders, including winners of four to five consecutive games who have won the most money.
The first semifinal round will air at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow on Channel 2.
As an avid fan of the show, Scott says, he was always impressed with the contestants and wondered what it would be like to compete.
But the show has lost some of its mystique for him, and he doesn't watch as much ashe used to.
"I can't be too impressed by someone else who is doing what I did," he said. And while the possibility of someday competing in a "Super Jeopardy!" looms on the horizon, the game for now is over for him.
"It's time to allow the 'Jeopardy!' phase of my life to come to its resting place," he said.
"Never did I go to all of those ('It's Academic' and college bowl) practices because I thought Iwas going to be on 'Jeopardy!' but I always knew it would be nice and fun. I did pretty well."