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Q&A with College Jeopardy contestant Cameron Kim

It’s not every day that you get to see your fellow classmates on television. Senior Cameron Kim was recently selected to be a participant on Jeopardy’s college tournament, in which he was selected out of over 12,000 applicants. Kim, along with 14 other finalists, will be appearing in the game show tonight, February 11, at 7:00pm on ABC-11 to compete for the $100,000 grand prize. ’s Andrew Luo spoke with Kim about his Jeopardy experience.

The Chronicle: What was your initial reaction when you found out that you would be a contestant on Jeopardy?

Cameron Kim: I was actually at a Quidditch tournament the week beforehand, and my mom was visiting me. Initially, they told us they would let us know the week before Thanksgiving. I had figured that there’s no way I’d have a shot; there were 300 of us that got to the auditions out of the 12,000 that took the test. So, it was already a difficult process, and I had it out of my mind a little bit at this point. My mom just went to the airport, and I was driving to class. I remember feeling a vibration in my jacket pocket from my phone, and I saw a really weird number. As soon as I answered the phone, the person on the other line said, “Hi Cameron, it’s Robert from Jeopardy!” Mind you, I’m driving my car, one hand on the wheel, other hand on my phone, and I was just trying to stay calm so I don’t crash. He asked me all these questions to verify my identity, and as soon as I hung up my phone, I didn’t know what to do and just screamed at my car. Thankfully, no one in the Blue Zone saw me doing that, but that was my reaction. I was calling my mom to let her know. You don’t get that phone call often, and it was a great experience.

TC: What was the reception back on campus when you got the phone call?

CK: I remember the entire time I was walking from the Blue Zone to my fencing class, telling myself that I would stay calm. When I got downstairs to where the fencing room is, I told everybody, and they were really excited about it. I also put my Facebook status out there, and within five minutes, there were fifty ‘likes’. And within a couple hours, there were a five hundred ‘likes’. I guess this is the type of thing that worth celebrating. This was my first ever audition. I’ve taken the test for so many years and never gotten that far, but once I got past that threshold, I had to go for it. It’s my last year in college. It’s definitely one of those things you don’t expect. Once it happens to you, it is such a big thing.

TC: What was the process for getting on the show?

CK: The first thing you do is that you have to take an online test. The online test was in mid-March last year, and I remember I was acting in a show last year at the time. The test was in the middle of rehearsal, and I basically told my director that “I have to do this.” This is my last chance to be on College Jeopardy, so he let me take the test. It’s funny, because after I took the test, I didn’t feel very confident about it. But in April, people contacted me that I had an interview. The interview was scheduled for the middle of May in Nashville. While other people did beach week and graduation stuff, I couldn’t do that because I was studying for Jeopardy. As soon as my exams for later, which were a week and a half before the interview, I was basically reviewing everything I could get my hands on. In Nashville, they had us take another exam and go through a mock interview. They asked questions like “What would you do with the grand prize?” and they recorded it so that they can re-watch everything when they make the final decisions. The tapings happened early January, and they flew us out to Los Angeles, put us in a nice hotel next to Universal. The tapings were done in two days for the entire two-week tournament, so it was a very quick process. Afterwards, my mom, my sister, and I took a tourist day in Los Angeles. We visited Hollywood Boulevard and stuff like that. Now, it’s a month later from taping, and we’ll be showing the tournament on TV.

TC: How did you prepare for the show? You must have done a lot of work beforehand.

CK: I kind of consider my brain a sponge. I don’t know how it gets there, but I just hear and read things, and it gets stuck there. Honestly, the way I did this was through Sporkle quizzes, and it was the best way to do it. You get a random quiz and a bunch of new sections. Every now and then, I would go to trivia night at Fullsteam Brewery, which is a perk of being 21. I’m more of a science and math type of person, so I am good at that. My definite weakest points are literature and music. I consider myself an old person at heart, so even some pop culture stuff, I had learn who the Kardashians were just in case. You never know what they are going to ask. That’s the great thing about Jeopardy since they can ask you about anything and everything. You kind of have to play your odds a little bit and see what categories you might get. I definitely had to study a lot for literature, painters, and music, since I really didn’t know that stuff. Hopefully, it paid off, because I really can’t say much.

TC: Going into the tournament, did you ask anybody for advice? For example, Greer Mackebee was a recent Duke contestant in Jeopardy two years ago.

CK: I actually didn’t talk to Greer. I read Ken Jennings' blog about what he thinks about Jeopardy. But I went in on my own a little bit. Jeopardy is a hard game to give secrets on. You are playing against two other people who are extremely talented. Really, it comes down to that buzzer. You can know every question in the world, but if you’re a tenth of a second slow on the buzzer, you are not going to get the question. I did a lot of Science Bowl in high school, which is all science stuff. The good thing with that is that you can buzz in early without hearing the answer choices. In Jeopardy, you can’t do that. If you buzz in too early before the question is read, it locks you out. So, the timing of the buzzer is an important thing. They gave us time to rehearse it, but it’s really hard to practice that. When you’re on the game, it’s a whole different environment from watching it at home.

TC:

CK : It’s so awesome. You put 15 college kids in a room, and you’re all excited. You all want to do the best you can, but we all had this mentality. You know what, we’re here. Not many people can say that. So, everyone is passionate and nice. Going in, I thought there would be people there that might try to sabatoge you, but that was totally not the case. Now, we have a Facebook page and keep in touch. We follow each other on Ttwitter and everything. I actually had a graduate school interview at Harvard, and I met up with one of the people there. There is also a girl who is in charge of one of the elements of the Quidditch World Cup. Because I am fairly involved with Quidditch in terms of being an referee, I will be seeing her at the World Cup at Myrtle Beach in April. It’s funny; all these people you make are instant friends. That’s what so great about the college tournament. You all want to do well, but we all care about each other. Obviously, the money is something you want to win. But for just being on the show, you get $5000 dollars. Even though it’s not the grand prize, it’s an amazing amount of money. The money you win, no matter how much, is going to impact our lives ever so slightly. So, you’ll find out on Tuesday how I did, and all I have to say is that you have to watch the entire tournament. Watch my friends do amazing things because everyone is so talented.

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