Joon Pahk: “A modern-day nerd cowboy”

Basketball blog Dribble Penetration’s David Aguilar wrote a highly entertaining sports recap of Joon’s Jeopardy! run thus far (his fifth match airs today). Joon is compared to Kobe Bryant and Muhammad Ali, which (correct me if I’m wrong) I don’t think is too commonplace among Jeopardy! contestants.

I’ll go ahead and spoil the closing sentence of the essay: “With his reckless style of play, Joon might not make it past Friday, but he has forever carved out a place in the American cultural tapestry as a modern day nerd-cowboy—as well as a place in our hearts.”

Both Aguilar and Alex Trebek have alluded to Joon’s youth but you know what? He’s a respectable 32. He’s not some punk kid. Is he still “the madman genius of his generation of Jeopardy players” if he isn’t, say, 22? I vote yes.

After Joon’s third win, instead of just setting the DVR to record Thursday’s episode, my husband set up a season pass for all subsequent episodes of the show. Hey, you never know how long Joon’s streak will continue.

Thanks for entertaining us on TV all week, Joon!

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29 Responses to Joon Pahk: “A modern-day nerd cowboy”

  1. sps says:

    Joon, you are freakin’ amazin’! Watching you pull these out is a whole lot better than watching the Red Sox. That was awesome! Congratulations!

    Anyone else keeping an informal count of the crosswordese, e.g. Xena, that pops up?

  2. Aaron says:

    I laughed last night when XENA came up as a “question.” With all the puzzles he does, I knew Joon’d get that one right off the bat.

  3. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Early on there was the question about an EFT, and there was a NAVE later (etymologically related to naval, who knew?). I keep waiting for crosswordese places (ENID! ESSEN!) or opera (ERI TU, AIDA, TOSCA, EZIO), but nothing yet.

  4. sps says:

    He did get GISELLE…and I’m sure all the Roman numeral multiplication problems helped him with that math category he aced. :)

  5. joon says:

    aw, thanks. i had to do my little part to fill the cold, dark hole left by the NBA lockout, didn’t i?

  6. Rebecca says:

    Awesome. The plus 8 category was especially impressive and included some nice moments of humanity too… Definitely in the great moments of game shows!

  7. john farmer says:

    Joon!-on-Jeopardy! week has been a blast. Kudos to that “young man,” Mr. Pahk. (And to Nancy Shack. Is she hiring yet?)

    I agree on the day 2 Daily Double: one of the great game show moments ever. A gutsy call, and I imagine it’s one thing to think about doing it from your living room, another to do it in the studio under the lights. Very clutch.

    A few miscellaneous thoughts: Surprised that Alex didn’t know the record for biggest $ winnings (they need a Jim Horne over there); I thought I saw Joon nearly fall off the platform after his right-but-ruled-wrong “rumba” answer; “Mutiny on the Bounty” was a heckuva good answer for someone who claims movies aren’t his strong suit.

    One impressive performance after another! Here’s hoping Nancy stays busy for a while.

  8. sbmanion says:

    I just watched all the episodes. Congratulations to Joon. I am inclined to disagree about the gutsiness of the true daily double on plus 8. That might have been the all-time easiest category for math types.

    On the other hand, I thought I knew movies but blanked on Mutiny on the Bounty even though I have seen it


  9. pannonica says:

    I’m also surprised that Trebek didn’t know how to pronounce Cannes (he mistakenly snootified it, a common error).

    Big congratulations to capital-J-for-Jeopardy Joon!

  10. Jamie says:

    Joon was wrong on Rumba shines from everything I can find on the internet. I mean everything, everything that talks about salsa or shines, it’s all salsa. I love me some Joon and it is so cool to see one of the regular geniuses star on Jeopardy. He keeps amazing me with all his knowledge. He’s frighteningly bright.

    He was wrong on rumba. Joon. Care to chip in?

  11. joon says:

    i didn’t do the research; the writers and judges did. i trust that they did their due diligence because it was a hugely important decision, and the game was delayed (during the FJ commercial break) for a good 10 minutes or so while they researched it. but my cursory googling seems to indicate that to first order, rumba has shines. (in fact, one of the top hits is “afro-cuban rumba shines instructional DVD”.) it seems that rumba is often an element of salsa, so it’s kind of difficult to make a distinction between the two.

    john, i stumbled upon mutiny on the bounty quite fortuitously. i knew i didn’t know it, but 3 best actor nominations sounded like a good movie (so i thought of best pictures), and also possibly very old (before best supporting actor, which was indeed instituted by the academy the following year). that plus “high seas” led me to guess MotB. it was an educated guess, but i was still a little surprised to get it right. and good thing they didn’t need me to know the 3 actors, because i would have gone 0 for 3.

    but now? it’s on my must-see list. :)

  12. pannonica says:

    joon, how critical is buzzer skill?

  13. Jan (danjan) says:

    It’s been so exciting to watch – congratulations!
    You did so much better than I would have in ballet (and I just read a book on the history of ballet).
    I guessed Mutiny on the Bounty; it was the only maritime movie I could think of with possible multiple leads, but was thinking of the one I saw in the 60s, so when Alex said 75 years ago, I thought it must be something else.
    I was wondering how you approached the math on the big daily double the other day. Leap year days, times 2, plus 8 = (366+4)x2, which is easier to multiply. Was that one of the ways you checked yourself by any chance?
    I’ve been amazed at how few questions you haven’t known this week. It’s been a great viewing experience!

  14. Tuning Spork says:

    One important aspect of Joon’s Final Jeopardy wager on “Mutiny on the Bounty” was that, even if he’d gotten it wrong by guessing, say, “Moby Dick”, he still would have won since Franny bet large to stay ahead of an all-in wager from Joon.

    Being in second place, he bet with the assumption that Franny would get it wrong. That assumed, by betting small he assured a victory whether he got it right or not.

    Well played, Joon. Very well played.

  15. larry says:

    I googled “rumba shine” and immediately got a Youtube 4 minute video of two dancers doing the rumba side by side, which I assume is what shine means in this context.

  16. AV says:

    Agreed – this was the best jeopardy week of all time. I TiVo-ed it in HD, and my wife and I would grab our dinners and watch joon every evening! What a performance, and what drama!

    The only time I screamed at joon for almost blanking and taking his time was on “Chavismo” – I was trying to get through my TV and channeling Chavez to him (back in time of course but it didn’t matter, since it worked!) :-)

    Great run, joon – I have TiVo-ed the next week as well!

  17. larry says:

    One can see all the results of Jeopardy by going to The data is listed by seasons (this is #28) and shows every question, answer and bet.

  18. Jamie says:

    Joon – I stand corrected. I think you took a lucky educated guess, and sometimes that’s what you have to do. I spent two hours searching for rumba shine steps on Google a couple of days mainly to refute a comment in the NYT blog that said the judges were wrong and it was fixed. I couldn’t find anything with shine steps and rumba, zero on wiki; some of the very few videos that popped up could have just mean Rumba team “shines” as a verb. I concluded reluctantly that the comment was correct (not about fixing; about incorrect judging).

    I’m glad to be corrected. Good luck next week. It’s very entertaining and I’m in awe at the breadth of your knowledge.

  19. Bruce N. Morton says:


    I stumbled serendipitously across Jeopardy spinning channels mindlessly in a motel room, heard Alex say “June” then saw the camera turn to you and thought HEY–that must be *Joon.* I saw (part of) the show with the mental arithmetic category and I’ll tell you that was amazingly impressive. I like to think of myself as good at mental arithmetic (abacus style) too, but that fast, under the pressure of the cameras rolling–I don’t think so. I agree with Steve that the true daily double decision was a good calculated risk since you knew you would have some extra time, and you’d already been solving in about 2 seconds. And the problem actually turned out a little easier than some of the previous ones–350 twice, + 16 twice, + 8. But as I say, I was incredibly impressed and Im happy for you.


  20. joon says:

    pannonica, buzzer timing is crucial, in large part because every single contestant who gets on the show has passed two quite difficult tests (one online and one written), so people generally know their stuff. i’d estimate that i only got a couple of clues per game that neither of the other players knew, and i’ve been averaging almost 30 correct responses a game. of course, they’re more often the high-dollar clues, so they’re also important, but then, people have also answered plenty of clues against me that i didn’t know.

    ashish, i thought of chavez right away, but i was confused—the first three clues in that category had asked about people, and i didn’t think they could possibly give me “chavismo” if they wanted me to say chavez. so i re-read the clue a few times and finally realized they wanted the country. i made that one harder on myself than i needed to, but it wasn’t the only time i’ve been grateful for the extra seconds on a DD.

  21. Barbara says:

    Joon, I have been hanging on your Jeopardy stint every day and am so thrilled to see you shine to others what you have shone to all of us. My adrenaline is pumped … I’m more nervous for you than anyone I’ve watched and I’m proud as can be for your performance.
    My husband and I are now a mess until the end of the show and you win! Buzz on!

  22. Joanna says:

    Congrats Joon, been watching on youtube every night (Jeopardy here in Australia is delayed by ~2yrs). Good luck and I have my fingers crossed for you! :)

  23. Evad says:

    Same here, suspected you were going for it all with that Altitude question and glad that you got it right!

    Rock on!

  24. Aaron says:

    Of all the categories out there, a math category in which you know the answer is going to start with an A seems like a pretty safe bet for Joon. Glad to see he’s still making a run for it. I think they tape a lot of these episodes back-to-back, so Joon, if that’s true, I hope by now you’ve gotten a moment to mentally catch your breath (and that right now, you are still, in fact, dominating on Jeopardy).

  25. Evad says:

    I’m curious too if you know what question Alex will ask you in the “getting to know you better” segment? So often the contestant seems a bit surprised by the question (like last night’s “I hear you had something interesting happen to you when your fiance proposed to you” to the school teacher in the middle)–maybe he has a few to choose from to keep that element of surprise when the contestant replies? I missed completely what the third contestant was talking about with Wisconsin vowels and such.

  26. joon says:

    you give them a list with a few topics and then alex picks whatever he wants to discuss. jared’s interview was cut short in editing; it’s a shame because i thought it was kind of cool, but they left in some pretty uninspired interlocution on alex’s part.

  27. Tuning Spork says:


    Another runaway for Joon. Wow. I remember the olden days (Friday) when I was screaming “The Rose Tattoo!” into my monitor. This game was above and beyond.

  28. Sha Cook says:

    Joon, what did you say was the best video game? I want to tell my son who is also a video game enthusiast.

  29. Amy Reynaldo says:

    It was “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.”

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