Students compete for the title of ‘Jeopardy!’ College Champion – Inside Higher Ed

In tonight’s final episode, three students compete for $250,000 and the title of Jeopardy! College Champion. Meet some of the contestants who participated in the tournament this year.

Raymond Goslow can’t remember a time in his life without Jeopardy! When he was little, his dad taped the nightly trivia game show so the family could watch, he said.

“It’s been a part of my life for my whole life,” Goslow said. “I’m the kind of person who likes to suck up all kinds of knowledge and trivia and hold on to it, so it seemed like a natural thing that one day, one way or another, I would get on the show.”

Now he has. Goslow, a senior majoring in geospatial sciences at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, is a finalist in this year’s annual Jeopardy! College Championship, hosted by Mayim Bialik. So far, he’s won more than $20,000. Tonight he competes with two other students for the winning title and top prize of $250,000.

Goslow is one of the more than 26,000 hopeful college students from over 4,000 institutions who applied to be on Jeopardy! this year, according to the announcer at the beginning of the show. To be considered, students had to pass an initial 15-minute online test of more than 50 different clues, answering each in 15 seconds or faster.

Another contestant, Matt Downing, a senior marketing and applied mathematics student at the ​​University of Notre Dame, took the initial test in October 2020 after seeing an advertisement. He passed it, along with a follow-up test, and then had an interview. In January 2021, he participated in a live game audition via Zoom. Ten months later, in October, he finally heard back that he was one of 36 undergraduates selected for this year’s competition.

“It was surprising,” said Downing, who placed third in his quarterfinal match on Feb. 10. “Honestly, I didn’t really expect it. I remember I had a blunder in the live audition, and I had done well besides that. But once I got one wrong, I was like, ‘That’s it. I’m screwed,’ so it was really surprising.”

The 36 chosen students were flown out to Los Angeles to film the show in November. In groups of three, they competed in 12 quarterfinal matches, which started airing Feb. 8. The winners of those faced off in four semifinal matches, and the tournament wraps up with tonight’s final two-game match.

While Goslow can’t give away any spoilers, he said the final game of Jeopardy! was intense.

“​​I had the time of my life up there in the finals,” Goslow said. “Just to be up there and represent my school was an amazing experience.”

Even if Goslow doesn’t capture the title, he still comes out a winner: the second-place finisher takes home $100,000, and the third-place finalist gets $50,000. But all 36 students receive some prize money: the eight semifinalists win $20,000 apiece, and the 24 quarterfinalists win $10,000.

Goslow said he hasn’t thought much about what he’ll do with the money.

“My biggest concern right now with the prize money is actually just the taxes and sorting out, because you have to pay California tax on it and federal tax,” Goslow said. “So it’s nothing fancy, just the boring stuff to make sure I report it correctly to not get accosted by the IRS.”

Like Goslow, Jaskaran Singh regularly watched Jeopardy! with his family growing up. He even took the test to become a contestant on the show’s annual Teen Tournament when he was about 13, but he didn’t get selected, which “stung,” he said.

Now a senior finance and economics student at the University of Texas at Austin, Singh tried out for this year’s annual National College Championship after getting a push from his mom.

“I tried out once and I was like, ‘Whatever, I didn’t make it,’” Singh said. “And then my mom encouraged me to try out again. She said, ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ and I ended up on Jeopardy!

Singh won his quarterfinal game against students from Brown University and the University of Southern California and then won his semifinal match Friday. Tonight he’ll be competing against Goslow and Liz Feltner from Northeastern University for the title.

Claire Jackson, a sophomore English and Spanish student at Spelman College, applied on a whim to be a contestant after receiving a blast email from her college about the tournament.

“I honestly thought it would just be kind of funny to take the test, like a little inside joke with my family,” said Jackson, who placed second in her quarterfinal match. “And then when I got the email back that I’d been asked to do a callback, that’s when I was like, ‘OK, so maybe this could become a real thing.’”

Students adopted different approaches to preparing for the competition. Jeric Brual, who is now a graduate of New York University but was a senior film and television student during the show’s filming, read two books to hone his strategy for the show: Secrets of the Buzzer by Fritz Holznagel, the winner of the 1995 Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions, and Answers in the Form of Questions by Claire McNear, a collection of testimonies from past Jeopardy! contestants.

Brual said his experience during the taping mirrored the accounts in McNear’s book.

“It’s all true. Everyone that I interacted with who works on the show was so nice and so friendly,” said Brual, who placed third in his quarterfinal match. “They made us feel welcome, at home, and made us feel like celebrities in a way. I was just so honored to be there.”

By contrast, neither Jackson nor Goslow prepared much for the game. Jackson said she trusted her knowledge and didn’t want to cram or confuse herself before the game; Goslow said his lifetime of watching Jeopardy! served as preparation enough.

“I figured one way or another, I’ve been preparing for Jeopardy! my whole life by just learning things and watching the show,” Goslow said. “So I figured I didn’t want to stress myself out or make it too big of a deal by trying to cram and study.”

Since their episodes aired, some students said they have been recognized in public. Singh said a group of strangers approached him at a restaurant last week while he was waiting for food.

“Some people noticed me and said, ‘Hey, are you on Jeopardy!?’” Singh said. “It was really funny. And it was really nice—a couple of them said congratulations. That was the first time that’s happened.”

Downing has been surprised by his newfound celebrity. He gave interviews to both local and university news agencies and said a lot more students on campus know his name now.

For tonight’s final match, Singh said, he’ll be watching with his parents in Dallas. He agreed with Goslow’s assessment that the play was intense.

“It was nerve-racking, considering at that point there was as much pressure as there was going to be,” Singh said. “Since it was a two-game final, this was an especially long taping, but we ended up getting through it.”

Goslow will be attending a watch party hosted by Kennesaw State, where campus community members are invited to come cheer him on. Goslow said he’s also inviting family members to the party. Regardless of the outcome, he remains grateful for the experience.

“Getting to know all of the other contestants was really special, because it was all these students who are interested in the same nerdy things that I was interested in,” Goslow said. “So even setting aside any of the game play, just the whole experience itself was amazing.”