By Pamela Stravitz, news correspondent
Some kids grow up playing Jeopardy! sitting on their parents’ couch. Some get competitive with siblings, spitting insults between commercial breaks. Some, like Kate Laubscher, land a spot on the show.
Laubscher, a sophomore political science and communications double major, placed second in the game that aired Feb. 2, earning $14,400. Decisions for four “wild card” spots come out tomorrow, and may land Lauscher a spot in the tournament’s final rounds.
“I’ve been watching Jeopardy! with my dad since I was really little,” Laubscher, the first-ever contestant from Northeastern, said. “I saw at the end of an episode, [the producers] were looking for college students for the championship tournament, so I took the test just for fun. No pressure. I was really surprised when I got the email for auditions.”
She added that the process began with a 50–question online test. Then, out of a pool of people who pass, a select few are chosen to go to an audition city, which changes every year.
The in-person audition consists of a written test and a mock Jeopardy! game, buzzers included. The producers conduct interviews and film short segments to find easygoing, personable contestants, Laubscher said. About two weeks later, 15 students get notified of their acceptance and pack for Los Angeles.
Laubscher had her strong support system throughout this process, which included sophomore international business major Amy Aasen.
“I thought it was huge that she’d already got picked to go to auditions,” Aasen said. “I told her, ‘Let’s have fun in New York, and then you’ll do your best at the auditions.’ And I offered to help her study or make problem sets, but she told me she’d just watch TV.”
Some viewers believe that contestants are given the categories beforehand to study before the show. However, since the topics are never revealed before play, contestants do not have a way to prepare that guarantees success.
“My strategy was learn everything I would be embarrassed to not know,” Laubscher said. “I tried to study things like world and state capitals. Mostly I just watched the show and played along with these pens … that looked like buzzers. I did hear from a previous contestant that the best way to practice is using the spring part of the toilet paper holder.”
No matter how the contestants study, they all compete for the same prize: $100,000. The second and third prizes are $50,000 and $25,000, respectively. The rest of the contestants win either $10,000 or $5,000 depending on whether they earned semifinalist or quarterfinalist status. Although, according to Laubscher, it’s not easy money.
“During the recording in LA, there is an actual studio audience, which adds pressure.,” she said. “The hardest part is using the buzzer. If you buzz too early, you get locked out for a fraction of a second. There are also lights that come on to tell you it’s okay to buzz in, but by the time the lights are on it already means you’re late.”
While there is a $100,000 prize for the winner of the tournament, Laubscher said the contestants weren’t in it for the money. Most were in for the thrill of the game.
“We all had a lot in common and it wasn’t very competitive – more like play against the game rather than play against each other,” she said. “I have never met a more supportive group of people. It was very bonding, like bonding through trauma.”
The Jeopardy! Collegiate Championship airs Feb. 1 – 12.
Photo courtesy of Jeopardy! Productions Inc.