By Noah Sheidlower
“This is Jeopardy!” Applause sounds as the three contestants—all high school students—are introduced to the audience. The categories are revealed, ranging from history to pop culture to wordplay. Pulses race and hands shake as the first clue is read from the blue screen. After players respond to more clues (in the form of a question) and their earnings start to rise, the young contestants begin to focus less on who is winning and more on the experience of being on the show, showcasing their knowledge to millions of viewers nationwide.
While thousands of applicants took the 50-question online test and hundreds participated in mock games and personality interviews, only 15 teenagers in grades 8 through 12 were selected to star in the 2016 Jeopardy! Teen Tournament held in Washington D.C. last April. Senior Lucia Geng was one of these fortunate fifteen.
While Geng did not win her first match, her combination of quick buzzes and high wages on Daily Double questions (questions in which a contestant can wager up to the amount of dollars he/she has earned) enabled her to gain enough money to advance to the semifinal round in a wild card spot. Geng continued this strategy in the semi-final match, which placed her in the lead prior to the Final Jeopardy! clue. Although she ultimately lost the match, Geng not only earned $10,000 but also got a chance to tour the capital while bonding with the other contestants.
Geng developed a liking for trivia in ninth grade when she joined South’s Quiz Bowl Team. Quiz Bowl, a trivia-based club that emphasizes topics such as literature, science, and historical people and events, pushed her to explore subjects that aren’t typically covered in a school setting.
“[Quiz Bowl] made me extremely interested in the humanities, whether it be sociology or history not covered in depth in high school or world literature,” she said. “It has also made me curious about sports and pop culture since baseball and pop music are frequently tossed up in tournaments.”
Geng, 2015-16 President of Quiz Bowl, decided to audition for Teen Jeopardy! since some of her friends that have participated in the tournament felt that the experience was the highlight of their high school careers. Geng decided to try out in ninth grade, but after inadvertently missing her tryout test because she wrote down the wrong time, Geng made a promise to herself to try out again junior year.
In order to keep this promise, Geng devoted herself to studying famous authors, historical events, notable works of art, and musical compositions to simultaneously prepare herself for the Jeopardy! tryout and lead the Quiz Bowl Team to success. Each day during her sophomore and junior years, she would read a work of literature for about an hour, peruse The Economist, listen to classical music, and study a historical person or event. Geng would also scan books written by former Jeopardy! contestants as well as a database of past questions.
“Lucia has an outstanding grasp of many academic subjects, and her ability to call up information quickly and accurately helped her to qualify for Jeopardy!,” said Mrs. Deborah Cassetta, Quiz Bowl advisor. “She has shown me what determination and ability can accomplish when focused on a positive and achievable goal.”
Similarly to her Jeopardy! preparation, Geng puts the same amount of effort into theater and music. Geng attends Mannes School of Music Precollege on Saturdays to master her flute skills. In addition, Geng actively participates in school plays and musicals and has recently found a new interest in playwriting.
With college in her near future, Geng hopes to major in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics (PPE), which focuses on topics that she has grown fond of as a result of studying for Quiz Bowl. Geng also aspires to become a journalist due to her interests in both literary arts and current events, but for now, in her last year of high school, Geng hopes to spread the message that making mistakes should not discourage people from fulfilling their goals because there are many opportunities to overcome them. “It’s okay if you’re wrong even if it’s in front of millions of people watching because the game, like life, changes so quickly, and any buzz can make a huge difference.”