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The Daily Tar Heel

What is so close, yet so far, Alex?

I entered the cozy, well-lit conference room in a Los Angeles hotel and surveyed my competition.

There were 14 students seated inside. Each shared a common goal: becoming a contestant on the Jeopardy College Championship.

You know, the game where students answer in the form of a question while donning their nicest college crew-neck sweatshirts. Qualifying for the show has been a goal of mine since my freshman year. I even had a dream one night in which I couldn’t decide between a navy or Carolina blue sweatshirt — five minutes before showtime.

Each student in the room had passed an online test in March to earn the callback invitation. For months, the Jeopardy crew had been traveling across the country to rooms like this one to whittle 200 or so hopefuls down to 15. The ultimate prize: $100,000.

In other words, I didn’t take the audition lightly. I had spent countless hours this summer holed up in my local library, poring over The World Almanac, studying European monarchs, state nicknames, birthstones, thermodynamics, Greek gods and anything else that qualifies as “general knowledge.”

In the hotel conference room, there was a student with a Brown University crew-neck and two Stanford students in Cardinal red. I had no school spirit, just a killer’s mentality. The kid from Duke seemed nice enough, but he nevertheless became my arch nemesis for those two hours.

After a few introductions, our hostess kicked off the competition with some practice questions to familiarize us with Jeopardy’s famous wordplay categories. For “Rhyme Time,” the clue was “Chewbacca’s dessert treat.”

Brown crew-neck slammed his hand on the table. This dude was eager. “What is a Wookiee cookie?”

I soon got my chance. Before and After: “This early Supreme Court justice raps under the name Eminem.” Who is John Marshall Mathers? Yes sir.

But enough of the warm-ups. The reason we were here was to take a 50-question test, with eight seconds for each answer.

The first question was a blur. So were the next 49. All I remember was hearing the questions and either immediately knowing the answers or staring down as others scribbled furiously beside me.

My ideal scenario, in which every piece of trivia somehow related to my life story with Slumdog Millionaire-like convenience, never came to fruition.

I came up with nothing for questions on Depression-era theater and obscure British authors. I bungled an astronomy question and confused my Shakespeare plots. In a cruel twist, precisely none of my study material proved relevant to the 50 questions.

Still, I managed to salvage my audition during the mock game — in which I out-buzzed the Duke kid — and during the personality interview, in which I refrained from meowing (unlike Brown crew-neck, who was demonstrating one of his “talents”).

And just like that, it was over. I picked my heart up off the ground, took my souvenir Jeopardy pen and left the room.

I’m not counting on getting the call this winter. But when the episodes air, I’ll at least be playing at home, clicking my pen like a buzzer and answering in the form of a question — crew-neck optional.

Mark Abadi is a senior linguistics major from Charlotte. Contact him at

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