Tech student competing on Jeopardy! shares her experience

Photo Courtesy of NBC

If there is one thing that can be said about Tech students, it is that when they get out in the real world, they are prepared and to make a difference. Graduates make airplanes fly, build bridges and program national security firewalls. While engineering and computer science may be important to the world’s infrastructure, hard work and detail tend to be lost on the general public. However, every once in a while, a Tech student gets a chance to display their knowledge in a way that is understandable and respectable by all. This year, Kristen Jolley was one such student.

Jolley, a senior at the Institute, recently represented Tech in the College Championship edition of the hugely popular game show Jeopardy!. The actual show will air in early May, but in the mean time, the Technique had the chance to ask Jolley about her road to the show and her experience on one of the most famous sets in the American entertainment industry.

First of all, what was your major here at Tech? When will you graduate, and how did you first get involved with Jeopardy!?

I’m a Biology major, graduating December 2013. My involvement with Jeopardy! started with my involvement in Academic Team in middle and high school. Academic Team is like Jeopardy! but on teams, so being involved with that from 7th to 12th grade and my freshman year at Georgia Tech introduced me to several people who were chosen to be on Jeopardy! along with teaching me the skills and information that would prepare me for being on the show. I tried out for Teen Jeopardy! in high school and once before for College Jeopardy!, but each time I made it to the audition round and no further. I tried again this year, and I finally got it!

Do you think your Tech background has helped you in the competition? What would you say are your subject strengths?

I do think that my Tech background helped me in the competition, because every day, I’m exposed to some new knowledge. At Tech, you’re constantly around people who know more than you (or at least different things than you), so you never stop learning, which is one of my favorite things about this school. My strengths are sciences, literature and pop culture. Really, I’m alright with anything but history/social studies, which I’m awful at.

What is it like to go up against other college students like yourself? Is it fun, or was it just a really competitive experience?

It was a lot of fun competing with other college students. I expected to get there and feel a lot of competitiveness, but everyone there was incredibly nice, and I found myself wanting all of us to win. Obviously, I wanted myself to win the most, but I realized that I would be okay with any one of the other contestants winning the tournament, since everyone was such a cool person and seemed equally deserving of winning. There were students from all over the country – MIT, University of Wisconsin Madison, Georgetown, Northwestern, Stanford, etc. – so I got to meet students from all different backgrounds and geographical areas of the U.S. One of the other contestants started a Facebook group for all of us, and we’re keeping in touch through that page.

This particular competition is created for the college level. Are many of the questions college-themed, or are they more general like those on the regular show?

The questions for the college tournament are different from the questions for the normal show in that they’re geared towards our generation. There are some college-themed categories, but the majority of the questions are general, like those on the regular show. The difference can be seen clearly in the pop culture. They’re not going to ask something about ‘70s music in the College Jeopardy! tournament, since people our age don’t have that knowledge base.

What was it like to work with Alex Trebek?

Alex Trebek is so cool. In between the tapings of each show, he spends some time talking with the audience and answering any questions they have for him (both Jeopardy!-related and random ones). I wish I could hang out with Alex Trebek outside of Jeopardy!. He seems like he’d be a lot of fun. We all took pictures with him at one point, and he popped up behind one of the other contestants and grabbed his shoulders like a boxing trainer does in the ring and gave him a little pep talk out of the blue. He did lots of random, funny things like that throughout the days of taping. Seeing Alex Trebek just being Alex Trebek was one of my favorite parts of the whole experience.

Overall, how would you sum up your experience on Jeopardy! so far?

Overall, my experience has been pretty surreal. I don’t think it’s all hit me yet. Being on the Jeopardy! set and seeing the place where all of the shows take place and being a part of it is something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time, but actually doing all of those things was overwhelming. It all goes really fast when you’re on the set. You get up there, start playing, and it’s all over before you know it. You find yourself just wanting to keep playing and go again, since by the time you get the hang of it, it’s already over. The experience has been incredible overall. All of the people I met were fantastic – both the other contestants and everyone who works at Jeopardy!. It was an experience unlike anything else I’ve ever done, and I feel so fortunate to have been a part of it.

By participating on Jeopardy!, Jolley is not only joining the ranks of almost fifty years of knowledge-hungry individuals, but she is also bringing Tech to the national scene. The Institute’s academic progress now is being highlighted instead of just its athletic or research-based successes. Hopefully the future will attract other students like as Jolley, who will seize the opportunity to proudly display the outcome of all their hard work at Tech.

But in the mean time, the College Jeopardy! episode featuring Jolley airs on May 6. Tune in to watch Tech take on other universities from around the nation.