‘Jeopardy’ a lifelong dream for Wright State student

On Tuesday night, television viewers will find out whether Wright State University student Emily Bingham will advance to the final round of Jeopardy! College Tournament.

Bingham started the competition as one of 15 contestants from universities across the country competing in the annual competition for a grand prize of $100,000. The runner-up gets $50,000.

The Englewood resident earlier this week advanced to the semifinals. Bingham said she’s enjoying “the moment.” The marketing and literature major also said she’s preparing to hit the job market when she graduates in the spring.

Bingham, who founded the Quiz Bowl team at Wright State, has been competing in trivia competitions since her days at Northmont High School.

She recently spoke with this newspaper about her experience on Jeopardy! — something she’s wanted to do since middle school. Although the show was filmed in California last month, Bingham couldn’t share any of the un-aired details. The final episode will air Feb. 12. She was able to answer some questions, though.

Q: You learned in December you were going to be on the show. What was the process like leading up to that invitation?

To get on the show you have to take an online test. It’s a 50-question test with random categories. I finally passed this year, which was lucky because this was my last year to get on the college tournament. If you pass the test your name is put into a lottery for an in-person tryout. My name was pulled from that for an in-person interview. Luckily this year there was a tryout in Columbus.

There was another 50-question test at the interview to ensure you didn’t cheat. And then a mock game and a personality interview — which is extremely important. They want people who are telegenic, not just the people who are going to know the most. They want people who aren’t going to be awkward on television, who have a loud enough TV voice and are going to be interesting enough that people are going to want to tune in and cheer for them.

Q: Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek typically introduces contestants by telling a story or sharing an interesting fact. What did Trebek share about you?

You give the contestant coordinators a list of facts about yourself. They give that list to Alex and he picks one. My first game, my interesting fact was that I went on a pilgrimage to Costa Rica. It was a pilgrimage they do every year called La Negrita, and you travel from the capital San Jose to the basilica in Cartago. It’s historically and religiously significant. You travel around 25 kilometers all in one night.

Q: Jeopardy is filmed with a live audience. How did that affect your focus?

There was one question I screwed up. The answer was President Garfield. I said President McKinley. It was asking about the man that shot Garfield, who is Charles Guiteau. I can tell you exactly why he shot him, when and who became president after him, but I was very nervous. I just spit out the first president that I could think got assassinated, instead of sitting and thinking about it.

The pressure was very intense. That was not what I was expecting. It took me a long time to get used to the buzzer, the lights, the live studio audience, Alex Trebek being right there and my opponents. A lot of what I did on stage was trying to calm myself down. I tried to take a deep breathe before every question.

Q: Going into the Final Jeopardy category, you were leading with $17,600, followed by LSU’s Kevin Brown with $12,600. Why did you elect to not wager any money in Final Jeopardy?

A lot of people have been asking me why I wagered zero. I studied betting strategy extensively over Christmas break. I studied what past winners did. Also, I had my high school quiz bowl coach David Jones help me a lot. He was telling me, ‘If you get to around $16,000 going into final jeopardy, stay there because that cutoff is pretty safe.’ In the last five years, the cutoffs have been between $11,000 and $15,000. So when I got to $17,000, I thought this is pretty safe level and I’m going to stay here.

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