For the Daily Double, contestants, here’s your clue: she’s a senior editor at Scholastic who’s also a bestselling YA fantasy, sci-fi, and dystopian author writing under the name Kass Morgan. Correct response: who is Mallory Kass? And on Tuesday, May 10 she makes her debut as a contestant on Jeopardy! on ABC at 7 p.m. ET.
Kass said that while she has long enjoyed the show, she didn’t always imagine herself a contestant. She didn’t have a TV for the first decade that she lived in New York, but when she began dating a mega-Jeopardy! fan, everything changed. The two bonded over watching the show together. “I started getting pretty good!” she said. An attempt at taking the online entry test in 2019 was met with defeat, but when she tried again last year, she got called back for additional try-out rounds. “I got the official word in early February of this year,” she said. “I was very professional on the phone, then hung up and did a goofy happy dance.”
To prepare for the show, she read the book recommended by all-time Jeopardy champion (and some-time host) Ken Jennings, Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know by E.D. Hirsch Jr., zooming through it a chapter per day. She also read Secrets of the Buzzer by former contestant Fritz Holtznagel. The book “kind of freaked me out,” she said. “I’ve always had somewhat slow reflexes and poor manual dexterity. Fun fact: apparently musicians are the best at buzzing in, and trombonists are the strongest of all. Sadly, I am not a trombonist.”
She credits her work on Scholastic’s The 39 Clues multiplatform series as the best prep. “We wanted to make history and geography fun for kids, and a big part of my job was researching interesting stories. That’s why I know so many random facts about the doomed Franklin expedition, the curse of Tutankhamun, and the famous female pirate, Ching Shih.” She also credits her “brilliant former boss,” Rachel Griffiths, for helping her develop her quiz-show-worthy knowledge base. “Her appreciation for strange history ran even deeper than mine!”
Kass said she didn’t sleep the night before the show and was very nervous when she arrived at the studio. Contestants do a practice game before the actual taping, to get used to the buzzer. “A producer had to pull me aside for remedial buzzer coaching,” she said. But it all came together when the cameras started rolling. “I snapped into focus mode,” she said. “I think my experiences as an editor and as an author probably helped. I’m used to public speaking and thinking on my feet.” Her editorial experience also helped her make friends. “I was keen to make sure my fellow contestants all felt comfortable and had plenty of snacks, just like I do with my authors at events.” Another fun fact: host Mayim Bialik is “lovely, warm, and approachable.” Plus, Kass said, her Jeopardy! wardrobe is on point.
As for the questions, “There weren’t as many book questions as I’d hoped,” she said. There was one category that was “laughably off-brand” for her, but another that had a connection to her mother, who died two years ago. “There’s a tiny part of me that likes to think she was there, helping me out,” Kass said.
Per the show’s rules, Kass kept her participation a secret until just before her air date. “We publishing people are used to holding onto news for a very long time!” she joked. In her Jeopardy! appearance, Kass joins a coterie of publishing professionals who competed on the show before her, including Cheryl Klein at Lee & Low, Maggie Lerhman at Abrams, Stephanie Stein at HarperTeen, and former Scholastic production editor Stephanie Engel (who competed on the same episode as Christina McTighe, a former Scholastic intern who now works as a children’s librarian).
Authors and editors like to keep their readers in suspense, so those who want to know how it all turned out will have to tune into Jeopardy! tonight. Even if she doesn’t reach Jennings-level heights, Kass still has her publishing career to fall back on. The Monarchs—the second book in the Ravens duology she co-wrote with Danielle Page—came out in January.