Viraj Mehta ’18 recently competed for $100,000 in the 2017 edition of the Jeopardy! College Championship, which will begin airing this week. The three-round competition airs Feb. 13-24 on ABC, with Mehta’s first round broadcasted today.
Mehta will first face Jennifer Katz, from Macalester College, and Hannah Whisnant, from the U.S.
Military Academy, West Point, in Tuesday’s quarterfinals. He will advance to the semifinals if he wins or is among the top four non-winners across the board.
A math and computer science major, Mehta has aspired to be on the show since he was a child.
“I’ve been watching ‘Jeopardy!’ since I was as little as I can remember,” Mehta said. “I knew that I was never going to be a professional football player, but I always figured that I am pretty good at trivia. I know a lot of random stuff.”
To make the final cut, Mehta underwent a multi-stage auditioning process, beginning with an online test. After the test, the studio asked Mehta to fly out to New Orleans where he took another test, played practice rounds of the game and interviewed with the producers. The producers asked him about his background and what he would do with the money if he were to win. Mehta said he felt “just over the moon” when he finally received the call about his acceptance two weeks later.
After his acceptance, Mehta prepared and studied for the contest on top of his regular coursework. His four central study strategies included reading an almanac cover-to-cover, reading a comic-book version of the Bible, reading Shakespeare plot summaries and watching taped episodes of the show with a clickable pen to practice buzzing into questions.
The last practice was important, he explained, because the timing of the buzzer was the most difficult aspect of the show itself. Since most contestants knew the answers to the questions, the differentiating factor became response time.
Highlights of the experience for Mehta included seeing the show’s host Alex Trebek backstage.
“The first time I ever saw him, before the game started, Alex Trebek stuck his head out into the studio wearing jeans and a Jack Daniels t-shirt,” Mehta said. “I thought, ‘This dude’s so cool.’”
He also enjoyed seeing his family watching in awe in the studio audience. “I would occasionally look and see my brother looking at me with an ‘are you insane?’ face,” Mehta said.
Mehta’s quarterfinal round airs tonight at 7:00 p.m. PST on ABC and will be featured on campus at The Treehouse.
Contact Caroline Kimmel at ckimmel ‘at’ stanford.edu.