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A: Quiz Bowl. Q: What Do Top Game Show Players Prize?

"If you drink alcohol, stop. There's nothing worse than being hung over when you need your reflexes on 'Jeopardy!' " Block said. On the set, he advised, be prepared for tight security.

"They followed me to the bathroom," he recounted. "What were they expecting? Inspector Gadget to come out of stall number 3 to give me the answers?"


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)

To the quiz bowlers, though, playing is as much an art as a science, and Robert Hentzel sees "some division" in the community between those who cherish the game as a purely intellectual endeavor and those who welcome its intersection with the popular mainstream. Jealousy also seeps in.

"Certainly there is a segment of the community dismayed by game shows and the questions they ask and that Ken Jennings or Kevin Olmstead, whom they don't perceive as the best quiz bowlers or the most knowledgeable, are rewarded so much," Hentzel said. "It's like authors of serious fiction looking at J.K. Rowling and saying, this isn't fair, these aren't great books, yet she's richer than the Queen of England."

But Hentzel hopes that the success of his friends, particularly Jennings, will nudge quiz bowl into the spotlight, too. Maybe turn it into a game show in its own right. Or get corporate sponsorship, like the National Spelling Bee.

"We have trouble explaining ourselves," Hentzel allowed. "None of us is really good at putting together presentations. If it's between writing questions or cold-calling Microsoft for sponsorship, well . . . People who tend to be salesmen, managers and really people-people don't tend to become quiz bowlers."

Tom Waters, a Savannah, Ga., golf shop owner widely considered the grand master of the game, changed his view of TV game shows, which he held in disdain despite his own $12,500 win on "Jeopardy!" nearly 20 years ago.

"There was a split in the community. Some of us thought 'Millionaire' was beneath ourselves. Some would swallow pride and prostrate ourselves."

At first, Waters took what he considered the higher ground.

"Then they came back with $10 million and I thought, 'I'm less a purist than I thought,' " said Waters.

He passed the tryouts but his fingers were too slow in the first round to get into the so-called hot seat and compete for the big money.


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