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Duke alum wins more than $25,000 on Jeopardy

Dylan Hamilton, Trinity ‘10 and assistant consulting professor in the department of surgery and a pediatric dentist, recently won $26,598 on the television game show Jeopardy! after a two-day winning streak. 

“I thought, ‘I’ve won one game, it’s more than I could have dreamed of—anything beyond this is just icing on the cake,’” Hamilton said. 

Hamilton’s first game had a slow start, but he started to pick up after betting all his points and correctly answering a daily double question. He quickly amassed more points, ending the day with $9,199. Coming back as the returning champion, he dominated his next game, earning $16,399. He ended his last game in third place, winning $1,000.

The categories are not given to contestants ahead of time, so they have to be prepared for everything. Jeopardy! is something that Hamilton has been preparing for his whole life by being “a student of the world,” Hamilton said, such as reading the news, watching sports and awards shows and taking a range of classes at Duke.

By his last game, Hamilton felt he knew the questions but as he became fatigued, his button reflex was slower than his opponents. Signaling speed was a surprisingly important part of doing well, he noted—one needs to not only know the answers but also press faster than one's peers. 

Hamilton explained that all the shows are recorded successively in a span of two days, and recording the show takes about as long as what people see on TV. He described the show as a game of endurance—all three of his games were recorded in under two hours. 

“I was pleasantly surprised how nice everybody was and how exuberant and happy everyone was,” Hamilton said. “I found the whole staff to be really fun, and they made you feel at ease, helped you practice, got you loose, got the butterflies out of your stomach. All the fellow contestants and myself really enjoyed it.”

Though he had never been in a television studio or on camera before, Hamilton said he felt “strangely calm,” partially because he had dreamed of it his whole life and partially because of the great producers.

Hamilton grew up watching Jeopardy! with his family as an evening tradition, and so he had always wanted to be on the show. 

“It wasn’t until coming to Duke and taking a broad array of classes that I realized I was getting questions right, not just watching the show, but enjoying benefitting from a great education,” Hamilton said.

To get a spot on Jeopardy!, Hamilton had to pass an online test—which he said more than 80,000 people take—then the top scorers are selected for an in-person audition. He said he took the test every year and was lucky to be selected for an in-person audition this year. Hamilton also then had to complete a personality interview and a mock game show, hoping to be one of the 400 chosen to be contestants. 

On his 30th birthday, Hamilton received a phone call that he was selected to be a contestant on the show. He headed to Los Angeles for his taping Oct. 9 and 10, and his shows aired from Nov. 26 through 28.

Hamilton’s family watched him in the live audience, but he had to sign a non-disclosure agreement, so his friends would not know of his success until the episodes aired on TV. They held a watch party, where Hamilton was able to watch himself on the show.

In his last round on Jeopardy!, Hamilton mentioned that he completed his undergraduate education at Duke and that he recently joined the private practice of his undergraduate thesis mentor, Martha Ann Keels, associate consulting professor in the department of surgery.

Hamilton plans on using the money to travel to England and Scotland for genealogy research, to buy new couch and to continue broadening his skills to deliver the best care to his patients.

“I am really appreciative of the Duke education I got,” Hamilton said. “I think it gave me such a broad foundation, not just for Jeopardy! but for being a productive member of society.”


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