Carrboro resident Kathryn Peters, a lifelong trivia fan who grew up watching "Jeopardy!", recently got the chance to compete on the show and left a champion.
Peters won first place on a "Jeopardy!" episode that aired on March 22. She returned as the reigning champ on an episode that aired March 23, where she misread the Final Jeopardy! question and finished in second place.
Peters’ combined winnings from both games was $22,001, some of which she pledged to two organizations that work to ensure people can vote easily. She pledged five percent of her winnings, $1,100, to the Center for Civic Design, and another five percent to Vot-ER, a new initiative through which doctors and other healthcare professionals help to register voters.
“I wanted to take 10 percent of it and put it forward to something that was good and that I cared about,” Peters said.
A champion of trivia and democracy
Peters played on a quiz bowl team at her high school in central Missouri and in college at Vanderbilt University. She continued to participate in and staff quiz tournaments for college competitions.
Now, she is a civic technologist by practice and came to UNC this past July to work as the executive director for the Center for Information, Technology and Public Life.
For the last 10 years, Peters has been running a nonprofit she created called Democracy Works that helps more people vote through building technology tools and data sets on how elections work.
Peters has always considered herself a perfectionist. When thinking about trying out for the show, she always felt excitement about the possibility and deep fear about getting something wrong on national television. Ultimately, that fear came true, but not before she won a game.
“I’ve gotten to be a bit less of a perfectionist and a little more comfortable with being human, I suppose,” Peters said. “It was finally the right time to go try out and take that on. I’m really glad that I did it now."
What the experience was like
Peters started the process of trying out for the show in January 2020. She took a test online that was 50 questions long, with 30 seconds for each question. She didn’t hear back until September of the same year. The second test was another 50 questions, with less time to answer and in the presence of producers over Zoom.
Peters was scheduled to do a third test in November, but it was postponed due to the death of the show's long-time host Alex Trebek. Once she took the third test, she was invited to do the show and headed out to California to film at Sony Pictures Studios. She had to take COVID-19 tests before boarding the plane and once she arrived at the studio.
“During the taping day they had us in masks and spaced from one another the entire time,” Peters said. "The only point where we weren't in a mask was when you were standing at the podium next to your other competitors, right as they were about to begin taping.”
Peters said taping an episode feels like watching it as it happens. During commercial breaks, contestants can pause for a drink of water, answers can be challenged by contestants and the host can re-tape anything they may have said wrong or mispronounced.
“The adrenaline takes over, and you go down and you play,” Peters said. “To be honest, because it's moving so fast, it's easy not to be very aware of where the dollar amounts are.”
Peters posted on social media that she would be on the show and said she received a lot of messages of support from family and friends.
Her sister, Pam Eaton, watched from Vermont with her son Harley.
“He was very excited for her and watching the people hit the buzzers,” Eaton said. “It was a really fun experience to not only watch my sister, but to see how excited he was to cheer on his aunt on television.”
Kelsi Herberer-Davis, a friend from high school, also watched Peters compete after seeing her post on Facebook.
“It was always the kind of a, ‘guess who would be the person who would actually end up on the show' and I'm glad it was Katy,” Herberer-Davis said. “Katy's a good representative of our nerd group.”
With the rest of her winnings, Peters said she would like to save it for a big trip after the pandemic to the one populated continent that she hasn’t visited — South America.
“When something that lucky comes in, I'm thinking of doing something very fun with it,” she said.
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