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Quiz show pro ready for ‘The Chase’

Northwestern grad Daniel Donohue credits University Quiz Bowl for an impressive string of TV game show appearances

the chase
Daniel Donohue appears on “The Chase” Jan. 28 on ABC.

Your heart is racing, the television cameras and bright studio lights capture the sweat on your brow, the pulsing drone of music plays as the clock ticks down to zero. People are watching your every move as the host fires rapid and random questions at you.

“Who famously performed pregnant at the Woodstock Festival?”

Northwestern alumnus Daniel Donohue ’14 knows exactly what to do under game show pressure: squeeze the buzzer. Donohue credits his time as chancellor and president of the University Quiz Bowl team for preparing him in brainiac competitions. 

“There is no doubt in my mind that the single most important experience for getting questions right on a game show was the four years I spent at Northwestern in the quiz bowl,” he said. “You go and memorize facts and try to learn things about different subject matters in world history, science and literature. I was probably at the peak of my powers back in college.”

Donohue, who earned his bachelor’s degree in radio, television and film, first represented Northwestern on “Jeopardy’s College Championship.” A few years ago, his skills were again tested on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” Now, he is competing on ABC’s reboot of the British quiz show “The Chase.” Contestants attempt to win money by challenging a quiz show genius known as the “chaser.” In the U.S. version, chaser duties are rotated between “Jeopardy” champions Ken Jennings, James Holzhauer and Brad Rutter.

There’s a misconception that you need to hit the books and cram. The likelihood [is slim] that any one fact you memorize is going to come up during your one hour on television. I just focus and train on quick recall.

Alumnus Daniel Donohue on how he prepares for a game show

Despite knowing a little bit about a lot of things, Donohue says the key to getting on a game show may not have anything to do with the random trivia you remember.

“Viewers tune into the shows to see the contestants’ personalities,” he said. “If you’re going to go on [a show], rehearse and really nail down your anecdote because every game show host will say ‘tell us about yourself.’ That’s the moment people will remember, unless you really bomb.”

Donohue applied to be on “The Chase” last summer. As with most television game shows, he had to pass the personality test first to show producers he was ready for the camera.

“There’s a misconception [about quiz shows] that you need to hit the books and cram,” he said. “The likelihood [is slim] that any one fact you memorize is going to come up during your one hour on television. I just focus and train on quick recall. You have to know what you know.”

The quiz show scandals of the 1950s forced tighter rules and regulations on modern-day game shows. In fact, it’s even a federal crime to rig a game show now.

Donohue says there is a neutral lawyer on set to review the rules, monitor producers and contestants and give them time to practice with the answer buzzer.

“On TV, it’s all fun and games. But when you’re there it’s very serious.”

His “Chase” teammates gave Donohue the title of official guesser. When host Sarah Haines posed the question, “Who famously performed pregnant at the Woodstock Festival,” the Northwestern Quiz Bowl instincts kicked in. Donohue hit the buzzer and answered “Joan Baez.” 

Tune in Thursday night, Jan. 28, on ABC-TV (or stream later on demand) to see if he guessed right.

Topics: Alumni
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