Notes from the Mountain: a Summer Series

Each summer, Middlebury’s mountain campus in Ripton—home to the Bread Loaf School of English—becomes a hive of activity from late June to mid-August. From readings and performances to pick-up softball and study groups in the Barn, there’s a lot to notice and learn.

This summer, Middmag welcomes Bread Loaf student Diana Ling as a guest reporter for our “Notes from the Mountain” series of stories about the Bread Loaf School of English. Thanks to Diana, we’ll get a closer look into the daily happenings up on the mountain.

In this first installment, she interviews fellow student Noam Osband, who has appeared on both “Jeopardy!” and “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”

Stay tuned for more!

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Noam Osband is easy to spot among the polo shirts and Patagonia jackets popular with Bread Loafers: he’s the guy who pairs sarongs with neon-green Crocs—and dons a cowboy hat, snakeskin boots, and a rooster-shaped belt buckle for the annual square dance.

Less visible, but no less legendary, is his distinction as Bread Loaf’s only two-time game show contestant.

His stints on “Jeopardy!” in 2009, and “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” in October 2011, are easy fodder for conversation in Bread Loaf’s dining hall, where he waits on faculty and fellow students.

I sat down with Osband to talk about his wins, losses, and what he wore.

How much did you win on each show? Did it feel different to win on Jeopardy! compared to “Millionaire”? How did you use your winnings?

I won $27,759 on “Jeopardy!” and $250,000 on “Millionaire,” but being on “Jeopardy!” felt much more surreal. I’ve watched “Jeopardy!” since I was seven or eight, and my grandfather always asked me “Final Jeopardy” questions when we talked on the phone, and still does. My grandmother would make trivia booklets for me out of clippings from the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.

I did splurge on a fancy meal, a ukulele, and a sunrise boat tour on Boston Harbor. I also bought a GE bond after a talk with my grandfather, who often tells me, “Jesus saves; Moses invests.”

Part of my earnings went towards filmmaking equipment, which I needed for my work as an Anthropology Ph.D. student at UPenn. I’m currently finishing “¿Dónde está México?” It’s a feature-length documentary about an Irish Catholic church in Philly that was in danger of closing, but has been revitalized by Mexican immigrants.

In September, I’ll start work on my dissertation, which will be a film about Mexican guest workers who do reforestation work in the U.S.

How did being on the shows help you see Bread Loaf through a new lens?

I got into street performance because of Bread Loaf, and street performance helped get me on these shows. When I sang a song about Bread Loaf professor Isobel Armstrong at the coffeehouse, people seemed to love it. I began street performing after that, and I think I made it through the auditions for both shows because I’d become comfortable with entertaining a crowd.

During the second day of taping “Millionaire,” I was told by a head producer to “cut it out” or get kicked off the show when I quoted “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot as part of my response to the final question in the first round. Right after that, I remember thinking, “I can’t wait to get back to Bread Loaf to tell this story.”

Being on the shows made me appreciate the Bread Loaf community more. I always tell people, “This is the only place you can read a poem to a bunch of dudes drinking beer, and instead of calling you names, they’ll listen to you.”

What happened when you wore your cowboy hat to “Millionaire”?

After spending time in Mexico, I got into wearing cowboy hats, and I wear cowboy outfits to weddings. My childhood best friend, Toby, went to the first day of taping and brought a cowboy hat with him because I’d forgotten mine. When I brought my dad’s cowboy hat to the second day of taping, they wouldn’t let me wear it; I had to “tone it down,” they said. I did wear my rooster belt buckle, though.

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