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Montgomery County Student Competes on ‘Jeopardy!’

Written by CAPA-JRC reporters Emily Zhang, Cynthia Chen Edited by Julie Yang JRC interviewers: Audrey Li, Emily Zhang, Cynthia Chen, Claire Yu

(Picture by Jeopardy! Productions Inc.) Sophia Weng is a rising senior at Montgomery Blair High School who recently appeared on the television game show ‘Jeopardy!’’s teen tournament. Members of CAPA JRC had a chance to sit down with her to talk about her experience on the show. ‘Jeopardy!’ is a trivia game show that is hosted by Alex Trebek. The game consists of three rounds with three contestants that are up against each other to see who can garner the most money to win the game. In the first two rounds, contestants race to hit the buzzer after a clue from six categories shows up. The clues come in the form of answers and contestants must respond with the correct question to earn the clue’s monetary value. If the contestant fails to respond in the 5 second time alloted or responds incorrectly, the monetary value is deducted. In the third round, ‘Final ‘Jeopardy!’’, players wager an amount of money based on how confident they are with the subject matter. After a commercial break, the clue is revealed and players have 30 seconds to write down their answer. At the end, whoever ends with the most money advances to the next game. Sophia Weng competed in the quarterfinals, facing off against two other high schoolers. To get on ‘Jeopardy!’, Weng took the teen ‘Jeopardy!’ test which consists of 50 short answer questions. She was one of the lucky 250 teens randomly chosen to audition. She then got chosen by ‘Jeopardy!’ coordinators to compete on the show.

(Picture by Fengkai Zhang) Q&A: How often do you watch ‘Jeopardy!'? Weng said that she does not watch ‘Jeopardy!’ as much as before, since after being on the show, she knew more about what happens “behind the scenes”. “Even though I’ve been on TV before for ‘It’s Academic’… being at ‘Jeopardy!’, you realize exactly where everything is set up, so the camera doesn’t hide anything anymore… so it’s a different experience after,” Weng said. Did you have any ‘Jeopardy!’ game strategies? Weng explained that the best things to do are to prepare your buzzing speed and study. “Since I do a bunch of different academic competitions, most importantly Quiz Bowl and ‘It’s Academic’, which both have similar questions… I was able to take that knowledge from my extracurriculars and use it on ‘Jeopardy!’,” Weng said. How did past experiences give you an advantage on ‘Jeopardy!’? Weng and a lot of the others who go to teen ‘Jeopardy!’ do ‘Quizbowl’, science bowl, and history bowl, so being good at those things does give you an edge knowledge wise. “Doing academic competitions gives you random bits of information that definitely do come in handy,” Weng said. Did you go to ‘Jeopardy!’ with a goal in mind? “Really my goal was just to make friends… You have all these people who are extroverted because they have to be on camera, they love trivia, they like learning stuff, so it is so easy to become friends with everyone in the competition.” Could you go more in depth of want the show taping was like? Contestants do not know who they are playing against until the actual show. “Alex Trebek just comes out and says ‘Hi Everyone! This is ‘Jeopardy!’’, and the game starts… it’s like 20 minutes of taping that’s going to eventually be the 30 minute show, and you just do it, you’re done, and then you leave.” A lot of players practice hitting the buzzer at home; did you do that? “Yeah I did! They actually gave you these pens when you go to a ‘Jeopardy!’ audition that are shaped like buzzers… that have the same amount of give… so when you’re at home when you’re watching the show, you’re trying to anticipate when the buzzer is going to be available.” This is because contestants cannot buzz in the middle of a question. Contestants can only buzz when the lights blink on the screen that has the questions. However, the viewers at home cannot see these lights. Will you participate in other game shows in the future? “I mean I’m definitely going to participate in ‘It’s Academic’ again.” Was this an overall fun experience for you? “Yeah! Especially meeting people… The people that I met at ‘Jeopardy!’ I watched the democratic debates with them.” What do you think about James Holzhauer? “It is impressive that he can get on the buzzer every time. He must have lightning fast reflexes, and clearly he just knew so much.” What is something interesting about Alex Trebek? The contestants actually did not get to interact with him that much, however between shows he would talk with the audience. He would ask them questions and would ask them to ask him questions. Weng mentioned that when her show was done and her and her friends were sitting in the audience, it was a game to see if Alex would call on them. “So everyone was waving their hands in the air… and one of the things we asked him was ‘What’s the meaning of life?’, and he answered, ‘The meaning of life is to be cautious, and to understand what you’re doing with your life.’” Did the program organize the trip for you or did it by yourself? The program organizes the flight and trip for you. The contestant and one parent is paid for by ‘Jeopardy!’ What is one piece of advice you would give to anyone who wants to audition for ‘Jeopardy!’ “So I would say, you should join ‘Quizbowl’… because ‘Quizbowl’ is awesome! You get to meet people from all over the country, you get to learn so much, I never had to study for a history AP in my life because I do ‘Quizbowl’… and it really prepares you really well” Weng enthusiastically states. “But if you’re actually going to be on ‘Jeopardy!’, buzzing practices are really helpful, and make sure you’re in the mindset… what you’re going to say in the interview and your strategies on the show are the keys.” So you mentioned ‘It’s Academic’, ‘Quizbowl’; have you always been a trivia fanatic since when you were young, or did you only start getting into trivia in high school? “I’ve always been a trivia fanatic since I just liked learning things, but I did Science Bowl in 8th grade, so we went to National science bowl in 8th grade; that was an amazing experience…I learned that you could do science bowl but for all subjects when I got to high school and so I joined its academic, I joined ‘Quizbowl’… my friends and I started a history bowl club at our school and then we do that, and we do every kind of bowl there is, and it’s just a great experience.” Does your family play together; does your family have family trivia nights? “Not really; I’m the only real trivia buff in my family, but actually we’re going to a trivia night tonight, and I’m super excited because it’s at our pool, and I just… I want to win.” How has your ‘Jeopardy!’ fame changed your life and impacted your interactions with others? “Well mostly, when I see people I haven’t seen in a while, the first thing that comes out of their mouth is “Congratulations, I saw you were on ‘Jeopardy!’”, but other than that, it’s pretty much the same. Other than the friends I’ve made from ‘Jeopardy!’, who are actually my really good friends now, too. It’s not super different, since I didn’t win the whole thing. I had my one episode, I did reasonably well on it, I had a great experience, not that much else.” You mentioned that the taping was in December. What was it like to hold a secret for 6 months? “Oh, that was the worst. It sucked. I couldn’t tell anyone except my friends and family who had already seen it, and ‘Jeopardy!’ friends who already knew what happened of course, since they were there, and everyone would come up to me and they were like, “Wow, you’re gonna be on ‘Jeopardy!’ Do you want to hint at how you did? I bet you did really well!”, and I would just have to sit there and be like , ‘Yep, thanks, you’ll see in June.’” Sophia Weng is an accomplished student who has offered a lot of insight to her experience with the ‘Jeopardy!’ game show. To other teenagers who are interested in competing in game shows, she says to practice buzzer hitting, and to also join trivia clubs at school such as ‘Quizbowl’ since these clubs helped her know a lot of information useful to her on the show. Her involvement with the trivia games has helped her with school. She mentioned that she never needed to study for the AP US History exam!

To watch the full interview on YouTube, here is the link:


This article was provided by Chinese American Parents Association Junior Reporter Club (CAPA JRC) with members who interviewed, audio recorded, wrote, translated, and video recorded. CAPA JRC has 19 Montgomery County middle to high school students. They have created a bilingual platform delivering news and serving the community.

Instagram: @capa_jrc

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