Students glimpse fame from ‘Deal or No Deal’ to ‘Jeopardy’

In the purple bubble, fame means being picked for “One in 2000.” In the real world, how about being one in 500,000? That was the experience of Amy Levine ’14 when she was a fresh-faced 14 year-old in high school selected to participate in the Jeopardy Teen Tournament.

“I really didn’t think I would make it,” Levine said of the selection process. “But a few weeks later my family got a call saying that we were selected to be in the teen tournament and we were going to California in March.” Levine was chosen as one of only two freshmen among 30 high school students; nearly all the others were upperclassmen. Competing against students nearly four years older than her, she only made it to the first of two days of competition.

“In the teen tournament it’s a lot of pop culture stuff that you really just know by existing, so it comes down to reflexes a lot more than in other kinds of competitions,” Levine said. “My reflexes aren’t that fast. That’s what did me in.”

Just for her participation Levine was awarded $5000. The top three contestants received $75,000, $50,000 and $25,000 respectively – not to mention that they got to be on TV (makeup and all) and see the Jeopardy studio.

“It’s kind of like knowing how sausage is made,” Levine said of being there in person. “The blue of the Jeopardy floor – you think it’s this smooth, almost glacial surface – it’s wood painted blue, and you can see the seams.”

Apparently, the Jeopardy cameras can make painted wood look like glass. In the experience of other students though, cameras are not quite as magical.

“You can’t wear white, you can’t wear black, you can’t wear stripes … that kind of takes out all of my formal wardrobe,” said Yue-Yi Hwa ’11, whose game show claim-to-fame was on Deal or No Deal in Malaysia the summer before college. She participated as part of a charity episode in which newspapers were invited to send a representative. Hwa was interning at the time at a national paper called The Sun.

“None of the real reporters wanted to do it, so they were like, ‘Let’s make the intern do it,’” Hwa said, laughing. Her competition consisted of adult reporters – and she beat them, correctly answering several general knowledge questions to become the contestant. (In Deal or No Deal, only one person actually competes at a time.) Through a combination of luck and skill, she ended up winning the equivalent of about $7400 for her chosen charity, Asia Community Service, a group that works with mental handicaps.
“It definitely wasn’t something I did willingly, but it was fun in the end,” Hwa said. “I feel like if I actually watched it, I might have different feelings. [But] it was really rewarding to get that amount of money to this charity.”

Money was hardly the priority when Brandon Abasolo ’13 was competing. He and his team participated in the Long Island Challenge, which was broadcast on local television. The winner, one among 64 teams, received $10,000 for their school, but they also won standard little trinkets of participation: a t-shirt and a bag.

“We got to the second round, so we did alright,” Abasolo said. “I didn’t want to watch it [when it aired]. After we lost I was so mad.” Like Levine, he points to the disproportionate importance of reflexes. “It was a lot about reaction time. People on my team weren’t very fast.”

Abasolo’s team prepared by meeting once weekly and practicing sets of questions, but he admits that it’s hard to prepare for a trivia show.

“I guess you can go on Wikipedia a lot and just go to random articles,” he said jokingly.

As fun as it was, these three Ephs seem to agree that they’ve had enough of game shows to last them for a while. Hwa and Abasolo claim that they didn’t really watch game shows in the first place, and Levine seems to have had her fill: “I watched Jeopardy every day in middle school and then stopped once I went on. I just couldn’t watch it anymore.”

The burning question for me was: Why trivia?

“You have these random facts that you can just whip out at random times,” Levine said. “I have broken the ice more than once, I am sorry to admit, by telling the story of how carrots used to be purple when they were originally grown in Africa, and then they were bred to be orange by the Dutch as a propaganda tool by the House of Orange.”

Admit it, that’s pretty cool.