Anna Muthalaly will represent Duke in the “Jeopardy!” National College Championship tomorrow, Feb. 15.
The Trinity junior, a global health and public policy major, is one of 36 college students from across America competing for the trivia tournament’s $250,000 grand prize. In her initial match, she will battle Sebastian Torres of Yale University and Kristin Donegan of Carnegie Mellon University for the chance to move on to the semifinal round.
Muthalaly began her journey to “Jeopardy!” in the fall of her sophomore year, when she happened upon the link to the first round of auditions – an online timed test – on a Duke listserv. The lack of communication during the audition process felt disheartening at times. “This process took so long,” said Muthalaly. “Months pass between every round of auditions, and in between, you don’t hear anything. At a certain point, you think, ‘This is just done. It’s over.’” But after several more trivia tests, a personality interview, and a background check, she finally got the call in September 2021.
Her taping date was set for the week before Thanksgiving, just two months away; between her classes, her work in theater and her duties as president of Duke Planned Parenthood, Muthalaly had little time to prepare. But she had an ace up her sleeve: six years of experience as a competitive Quiz Bowl player. This, she said, was what helped her most in preparing to appear on the show.
“Basic ‘Jeopardy!’ strategy uses something called a distribution, which means that a certain percent of the questions are about history, a certain percent are about literature, et cetera. From my time in high school competing with Quiz Bowl, I’d already gotten the main distributions down,” Muthalaly said. “Anything left had such a small chance of appearing in the show that it wasn’t worth my time … there was no real chance I could spend a ton of time studying. So I sat down and learned the capitals of the U.S., the capitals of all the countries in the world, and as for everything else, I was like, ‘I hope my high school knowledge is going to get me there.’”
Despite her extensive base of trivia knowledge, competing on the show was nerve-wracking.
“There’s a lot of anxiety,” Muthalaly said, “especially because the show is only 24 minutes long – so as soon as the cameras start rolling, everything is happening so fast. You spend so long preparing for such a short amount of time.”
Still, Muthalaly said she enjoyed her time on the “Jeopardy!” set – a confidentiality agreement prevents her from divulging further details of what went on there. Filming ran smoothly, much of which she credits to College Championship host Mayim Bialik.
“I think [Bialik] is a hard worker, which really shows because her job is so draining,” Muthalaly said. “There’s so much stopping and starting during filming – it was cool to see someone work so hard to get something right.”
One of her favorite parts of the experience was getting to know her fellow contestants.
“I’ve met a lot of amazing people from all across America,” Muthalaly said. “I spent so much time with them every day during filming, and I made some really great friends. We’re still texting about our shared experience – it’s the most in the public eye any of us have ever been in our entire lives.”
Muthalaly encourages any Duke student interested in trivia to try out for the next “Jeopardy!” National College Championship. “Anyone can try out. Every fall semester, ‘Jeopardy!’ releases a link for the college championship, and all you have to do is click the link to audition. The first round isn’t hard – everyone should give it a try.”
Her advice for potential “Jeopardy!” hopefuls: “Learn your capitals, learn some famous authors, watch a halftime show. Because those categories are going to keep coming up – what they talk about now is what they’re always going to talk about.”
The “Jeopardy!” National College Championship runs from Feb. 8 to Feb. 22. Anna Muthalaly’s first “Jeopardy!” match will air on ABC at 8:30 pm EST on Feb. 15; it will also be available for streaming on Hulu.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.