And while quiz bowl undoubtedly gives people "a tremendous advantage" on TV game shows, Hillemann acknowledged, "it's not an unfair one." They're more like professional tennis players who go on to win Olympic medals than sprinters on steroids, he noted.
Still, quiz bowlers do not generally volunteer their expertise on game-show applications. "Conventional wisdom is that it's best not to mention it," Hillemann said, a sentiment echoed by several others.
After the wedding of fellow quiz bowlers, a late-night pickup game draws Maribeth Mason, Chris Nolte, Chad Kubicek and Tom Waters.
(Ben Garvin For The Washington Post)
Jennings said he kept mum about his NAQT affiliation until preparing to tape his 20th game, when a fellow NAQT competitor was in the contestant pool. The two disclosed their association, and the would-be challenger was sent home, he said. Still, in the course of his "Jeopardy!" winning streak, Jennings has come across former quiz bowlers he didn't know.
"I'd be playing and a player would be very good, and after the game I'd ask," he said.
If producers are clueless or nonchalant about the six lucrative degrees of separation in the quiz bowl community, not all would-be contestants are. A college kid from California, preparing to compete on "Millionaire," tracked down Hillemann to enlist him as his lifeline, too. At his behest, Hillemann lined up three other hard-core former quiz bowlers who, along with the boy's father, completed the circle of lifelines.
When it came to the moment of truth, though, young contestant chose Dad to provide the answer.
"Bad move," Hillemann laments. Something about nasturtiums.
"The rest of us all knew it," Hillemann added.
Although the quiz bowlers don't formally coach one another for TV game shows, they exchange practice questions from their computer databases (Hillemann has some 360,000, from "Beowulf" to Blink-182) and freely dispense advice about what to expect. (The buzzer on "Jeopardy!" is the undoing of many an overzealous quiz bowler, it turns out, since quiz bowl rewards the swiftest response with bonus points while "Jeopardy!" locks out any contestant buzzing in before the host is finished reading the question).
At a small convention for TV game show aficionados in Burbank, Calif., this summer, former quiz bowlers offered panels on how to be a great contestant, how to be a lousy contestant, and how to manage your game show winnings.
Jason Block, a $37,701 champion on "Jeopardy!" and $125,000 winner on "Millionaire," told wannabes to practice for "Jeopardy!" by standing up while playing along with the show on TV, to simulate being at the podium, and to click a pen to enhance buzzer reflexes.