Fact-Checking the ‘Turd Ferguson’ Girl

Talia Lavin parlays the post-Sabbath Saturday nights of her youth into Jeopardy! gold.

On June 9, 2015, Talia Lavin started as a summer fact-checker at The New Yorker. Remarkably, by the end of July, she had a first-person piece published titled “Off the Path of Orthodoxy.” The item briefly recounts her experience growing up in Teaneck, N.J. and her decision to leave the Orthodox Jewish faith:

The freedoms I was given were small and huge at once: though as a girl I was barred from counting toward a prayer quorum or baring my shoulders, I was granted a superb secular education alongside my religious studies, and was also permitted to use the Internet. On Saturday nights, after the Sabbath ended, I could watch TV, and see the America where Christmas was celebrated and teenagers went to prom.

At nineteen, when I left my faith, I faked the culture until I could make it. I knew the language of my country, and slowly eliminated Yiddishisms, one by one, from my vocabulary.

A few weeks later, in mid-August, Lavin traveled to Culver City, Calif. to tape her now-famous Sept. 16 episode of Jeopardy! As she told Harvard-pal-turned-Fusion-writer Molly Fitzpatrick, the trip was somewhat covert:

“I had to pretend it was a normal vacation… I was one of two contestants who smoked, and they sequestered us in a back room, like a jury. We had to go on supervised smoke breaks. I felt like I was at a terrible adult camp.”

As opposed to the wonderful, campy adult feeling of this past Wednesday night, when Lavin viewed the Jeopardy! broadcast in the company of The New Yorker colleagues. Again, from the Fusion Q&A:

“I watched it at a bar in Tribeca with a bunch of my co-workers, who are also fact-checkers. They wrote down all my mistakes on the tablecloth. Someone sent me over a drink, and the whole bar was cheering for me. It was an awesome moment.”

Much like Lavin’s Final Jeopardy! ode to Saturday Night Live’s Celebrity Jeopardy! and Norm Macdonald’s rascally impersonation of Burt Reynolds. It’s all part of a life seemingly full of awesome moments, such as for example the way Lavin as a teenager was politically inspired by the writings of Guillaume Apollinaire:

Talia began to call herself a Dadaist and ran a student government campaign in her school. She didn’t get any votes, but credits that to her running mate being a sneaker (Adidas Barricade 4) to inject a note of absurdity in line with the Dadaist belief.