Niki Peters has been a lifelong “Jeopardy!” fan. She participated in various Quiz Bowl teams in Boise, Idaho and ammassed a wide range of knowledge. In order to become a part of the “Jeopardy!” College Championship, she took a 50 question test in October. Following the test, she was selected for an in-person audition in the beginning of November in Los Angeles. While there, she took another test, conducted a personality interview and participated in a mock “Jeopardy!” game. During the on-camera audition, the contestants wrote funny facts about themselves and discussed them. “I said that I collected ugly sweaters. I buy them in thrift stores back in Idaho for $4 and then come back here and sell them to the Berkeley hipsters for a lot more,” Peters shared.
Later that month, while packing to return to Berkeley during Thanksgiving break, she got the call saying that she had been invited to the college championship. “It was absolutely insane,” Peters said. Of the 15,000 people who take the test online, 200 audition and 15 are picked from that pool. “It was intimidating because I knew everyone was super smart,” she said. Very quickly, the group of 15 became close friends.
Peters said seeing “that set, those boards and that podium that we’d all seen on TV” in person was the most exciting part of getting to the “Jeopardy!” set. “[Alex Trebek] started talking to us and we freaked out even more,” she said. As surreal as it was to be there, it was even stranger to see herself on TV. “On the first episode, I told him [Trebek] to his face that I was gunning for his job,” she said.
In order to get into the spirit of the competition, Peters made a Twitter account to retweet all the mean comments people were making about her on social media. She’s gotten a lot of backlash for the account, but she still kept the account and maintains that the point of it is to show that the hateful things people say on Twitter can have an impact on a real person. Someone even got mad at her on Twitter for wearing leggings during the competition. “Someone tweeted that I’ve never heard the word ‘no,'” Peters said. “But a lot of people say they’re my fans because I’ve retweeted and had fun with it.” Some have even apologized after she retweeted their mean comments.
Peters said everyone on the show was ridiculously nice. “We all knew that we were there to win the money, but even if we didn’t win, we still got the money and an amazing experience,” she said. All the contestants were kept in a green room before the competition, so they didn’t know who they were going to compete against. The first five episodes were filmed in one day, with everyone hugging before the filming and celebrating together afterwards at a party thrown for them by “Jeopardy!”
“Meeting all these people who are just as nerdy as I am about the exact same things left me with a bunch of friends that I’m going to keep for a really long time,” Peters said when asked what the highlights of the experience were. “And answering a bunch of questions well,” she said.
Not all of the questions Trebek asked Peters were about trivial facts. All the contestants were required to wear their college sweatshirts, of which Trebek asked them about. To answer, Peters said she was honored to be representing UC Berkeley. She knew it was a big deal when the university sent her a free sweatshirt to wear in the semifinal, though she was afraid that if she didn’t do well, the university would take the sweatshirt back.
Already, Peters has done better than the last UC Berkeley student to compete in the “Jeopardy!” College Championship. Her goal was to get to third place or better, something she has now accomplished. She didn’t want to have to compete against Gus Woythaler, the contestant from Stanford. They were the two highest-scoring contestants in the quarterfinals, so she viewed him as her biggest competition. When they found out they would be competing, she was devastated. “I didn’t want to lose to him and be a Big Game repeat, and I figured if I, won I’d make up for at least two or three Big Games,” Peters said. Luckily, she won.
Throughout the competition, Peters hasn’t followed a set strategy. “Buzzer speed determines a lot,” she said, as does being able to anticipate when Trebek will stop talking so the contestants can buzz in without being too early. When asked what she’ll do with the money, Peters said she’ll have to pay off UC Berkeley first before she starts saving up for medical school.
Peters cites the support of her friends, family and boyfriend as instrumental to her success. “I couldn’t have done anything without them,” she said. Being on “Jeopardy!” has been a once in a lifetime opportunity that she’ll never forget. “It was crazy; it was about as close to being on holy ground as I’ll ever experience,” she said.
The winner of the competition receives $100,000 and a chance to play in the champions tournament. There are still two more episodes of the final round left, which will air Thursday and Friday. Pappy’s will be showing the episodes downstairs at 7 p.m.
Contact Rachel Feder at [email protected].