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OSU students buzz in for a chance to compete on ‘Jeopardy!’

Paul B. Ellis, a second-year in biology, takes the written trivia test during the closed auditions of “Jeopardy! College Championships” on Nov. 21. Credit: Amanda Etchison | Editor in Chief

Paul B. Ellis, a second-year in biology, takes the written trivia test during the closed auditions of “Jeopardy! College Championships” on Nov. 21. Credit: Amanda Etchison | Editor in Chief

For many, “Jeopardy!” is a review game played in preparation for the next class exam or a light-hearted battle of wit waged over the dinner table with family. But for two Ohio State students, “Jeopardy!” is a chance to represent their university on the national stage.

Brian Griffiths, a second-year in mechanical engineering, and Paul B. Ellis, a second-year in biology, were two of about 60 students who convened at Le Méridien Columbus, The Joseph hotel in the Short North on Saturday for a chance to participate in the “Jeopardy!” college tournament.

Ohio’s capital city was only one stop on the nationwide search for the 15 college students who will be chosen to represent their respective universities when the show begins taping on Jan. 5 and 6.

Both Griffiths and Ellis said they have been fans of the show for years.

“I play it with family a lot … yell the answers at the TV, yell the answers when they are (in the) kitchen … (It’s) very exciting,” said Griffiths, who was auditioning for the first time on Saturday. “It’s an exciting process … A lot of smart people in the room — a lot of intelligence.”

Ellis, who previously auditioned for the “Jeopardy!” teen tournament in 2011, said he first became interested in the show when he watched contestant Ken Jennings win 74 consecutive “Jeopardy!” games in 2004.

“It was such a big thing,” Ellis said, referencing Jennings’ winning streak. “And it was amazing to watch him … But I try to watch it whenever I can.”

Griffiths and Ellis both made it through the first round of auditions, which included a 50-category test administered online. After passing that stage, they were part of a group randomly selected by region to take an in-person test, said Glenn Kagan, senior contest coordinator for “Jeopardy!”.

“Then after they take the test in front of us, then comes the fun part. That’s when they play ‘Jeopardy!’. We actually have the signal buzzers that we do use on ‘Jeopardy!’ and show them how to use it the correct way,” Kagan said, adding that he always has to remind contestants to wait until the host, Alex Trebek, finishes reading the question before buzzing in. “Then we give them a little bit of a personality interview so we have the opportunity to get to know everyone who is auditioning for ‘Jeopardy!’.”

Kagan said the “Jeopardy!” team tries to offer the in-person tests in different cities each year to better accommodate interested contestants.

“People come from all over just to try out, which is great for us. And what we try to do is we try to change cities every year,” he said, explaining that the Columbus testing location served the Midwest region this year. “So if you cannot make it to this city, for example, this year, maybe we will be closer to your city next time.”

After the in-person testing dates, the final 15 contestants will be chosen by the contestant coordinators in Los Angeles, Kagan said. Those who are chosen will be notified in December.

Kagan said he thinks the college tournament especially appeals to students because of the competitive environment.

“I think it is wonderful for college students in general. They like the challenge of trying out for the show. They like to show off,” he said. “Obviously this type of show is one where they can say, ‘Hey, not only am I a good student at my college, but let me show everybody all across the country how smart I am.’”

If chosen to compete in the college tournament, Griffiths said he would be excited to represent OSU on national television.

“(I’d be) excited for the opportunity to compete on a national scale representing the university, representing the state,” he said. “(But) I would be really nervous about appearing on TV and trying to get the questions right.”

Ellis agreed and said he thinks representing OSU on “Jeopardy!” would be a “dream come true.” He added that, if given the opportunity to go head-to-head on the show against a student from the University of Michigan, he would keep the rivalry alive.

“It would be an honor to represent Ohio State, and it will be a lot of fun, I think,” he said. “It was notable that here I happened to be with some students from Michigan. And we got along well, but you always have to be competitive when it comes to Ohio State and Michigan and so if I made it, I would do my best, that’s all I can say.”


Disclaimer: Paul B. Ellis is a copy editor for The Lantern.

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