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Interview: Monica Thieu Talks GSN’s Master Minds 

Interview: Monica Thieu Talks GSN’s Master Minds

Three trivia giants vs. three contestants trying to win $10,000. That’s the premise of Game Show Network’s Master Minds, where the incentive to win is more than the great take-home pay. It’s also about beating the resident masterminds and potentially getting the chance to become one of them.

In the past, this Ultimate Trivia Challenge included Jeopardy GOAT turned Host Ken Jennings. Currently, you might notice a new face standing on stage alongside Mark “The Beast” Labbett, Muffy Marracco, Jonathan Corbblah, Arianna Haut or Ryan Chaffee. 

The new genius on the block is Dr. Monica Thieu, whose trivia street cred includes winning Jeopardy’s College Championship Tournament ten years ago when she was only 18 years old. And now she’s contributing plenty of right answers and educational tidbits on Master Minds. “I originally auditioned for a position five or six years ago,” says Thieu. “I didn’t make it all the way through the process, which now that I think about it… I wasn’t as ripe as I am now.”

This time around, GSN recruited her. “I got an email that was like, ‘Hey, we’re from Game Show Network, we’re wondering if you would want to audition for this thing.’ And I was like, ‘Yes. I mean, I’m not sure how you found me, but sure.’ And then I auditioned, I was selected and everyone has been super great so far.”

Meeting Monica Thieu

Unsurprisingly, Thieu has accumulated an impressive array of educational degrees and achievements. 

  • She’s currently a postdoctoral fellow at Atlanta’s Emory University
  • She holds a doctorate degree in Psychology from Columbia University
  • She earned a B.S. in Psychology at Stanford university

It’s not a shock to find out that Thieu LOVED school as a child. She clearly remembers how her parent-teacher conference notes would always say, “Monica’s doing great in class and then for areas to improve, Monica could do well not to yell out answers in class,’’ laughs the Texas native. “I think that tracks for me personally.”

She remembers being as avid a reader as she was a yeller out-er of answers. Sure, she devoured Harry Potter books like any other kid. But she also gobbled up novels of the nonfictional variety. “The Eyewitness series was really big [for me]. They’re all nonfiction. I guess, technically, they are picture books, but they’re all nonfiction history and science books about various topics,” Thieu explains. “For the book on whales, it’s all these pictures of different types of whales or their skeletons. Or the ancient Egypt one. They have all different pictures of artifacts and I would just go to the library and plow through these things.”

They helped set the tone for her life in education as well as trivia. “I am still learning things today, but I think a lot of what I know is from reading these nonfiction books as a child.” And that foundation of knowledge is carrying her through the postdoctoral phase of her life. At Emory, she’s working in an Emotion Lab. There her studies focus on how certain types of visual information contribute to humans’ emotional experiences. “We are basically trying to figure out…how do our emotions work and can we learn something about how our emotions work in our brains using different types of mathematical and computer models?” 

Her ultimate goal is to become a professor. “I really enjoy teaching. Hopefully I’ll get a job where I can teach undergrads how to do science, do statistics and cool stuff.”

Thieu’s Trivial Pursuits

It’s been a decade since Thieu won College Jeopardy. “It was literally ten years ago now. I thought about it this year.” She was also a quarterfinalist in the Tournament of Champions and was on Ken Jennings’ team for an all-stars round. She feels she learned a lot from being part of the Jeopardy Franchise. “Walking that line between being confident in yourself [as well as] knowing your limitations and where you need to improve,” Thieu says. “I think I very much tend to fall as many women do on the side of doubting my abilities…

And so, for example, in the Tournament of Champions in 2013, I think my biggest regret there is that I would have gone to the semifinals if I had wagered more on my Final Jeopardy in my quarterfinal,” she continues. “I ended up getting it right, but I thought I was going to get it wrong. Had I trusted myself a little bit more, then I could have gone a little bit further.”

Mastering Master Minds

Thieu quickly learned to trust herself on the set of the Brooke Burns-hosted Master Minds, even though for her first taping, she did feel the nerves. “I was very, very nervous.” Those nerves eventually settled. So did the self-doubt. “Once you’ve been there for a few episodes you have a relaxed level of, all right. I’m not going to know the answer to every single question, but that is fine,” she explains. “I will know the answers to most of them and I fundamentally know that I do know the facts.” 

She didn’t win her first episode, but eventually she prevailed. Although, for her, winning isn’t the best part of this whole experience. “When you’re a Mastermind, it’s very much, all right, this is the job. I show up, we’re doing the show,” Thieu says. “For the contestants, I think it’s really nice to see how nervous and excited they are and let that excitement re-spark the fire in us…I like getting to vicariously experience the joy of getting to be on TV through them.”

She loves the contestants succeeding. She wants them to have a good time. If a contestant beats her, she knows they’re good. “In the final round I like getting questions, but I also know that for the contestants, it could be a life-changing amount of money.” When she defeats a fellow Mastermind, the feeling is a bit different. The buzz round is when she feels that rush of success. That’s where they get the most competitive. But it’s more of a friendly competition.

And really, any given day, any of them can be the one standing in the final round of play. So there’s not one Mastermind she fears the most. “I mean they’re all so good. And depending on our relative strengths, people know different things. I know Muffy knows a lot of history stuff that I don’t know. So if it was history, she’d just blow me out of the water. But I do think I watch a decent amount of British comedy, so I know, weirdly, a lot of British content. I kind of feel like — not that I would beat The Beast — but that I could possibly give him a run for his money.”

Her favorite categories are science and pop culture. Her intellect has served her well on Master Minds and Jeopardy. She feels trivia quizzes and games have a purpose in this world. “Knowing lots of trivia is fun, but it’s really because you get a better understanding of how the world works if you know things about it. We have to keep making sure that kids and then grownups still think that knowing things is cool because I don’t want to live in a world where knowing things isn’t cool.”

Master Minds airs weeknights on Game Show Network at 6PM ET/PT.

Photos and Video Courtesy Game Show Network

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1 Comment

  1. Sandy

    I am curious about the trivia the master minds give after a question. How do they get that info?

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