Eric Thorpe '18 to compete on College Jeopardy!

by Gabriel Onate | 4/13/18 2:50am

by Carol Kaelson/Photographer / The Dartmouth

When Eric Thorpe ’18 first started watching Jeopardy! with his roommates Jacob Cutler ’18 and Andrew Boules ’18, he never imagined himself representing the College for the Jeopardy! College Championship.

An economics modified with history major, member of the Hill Winds Society, co-captain of the men’s club water polo team and brother of Psi Upsilon fraternity, Thorpe did not seem to have the time to dedicate to a trivia competition. However, an online test and audition later, Thorpe found himself flying out to Los Angeles to join the show. Tonight he will advance to the quarterfinals to compete against other college students for a grand prize of $100,000.

According to Cutler, both he and Thorpe’s passion for trivia led the roommates to start watching Jeopardy! each night during their sophomore summer to “unwind.” Thorpe added that the idea of him competing in Jeopardy! was a recurring joke amongst his roommates.

Then in the fall, Thorpe saw an ad inviting people to take a test to audition for the show, which prompted both him and Cutler to try out. In the test, they were only given eight seconds to answer each question, Thorpe said. He was later called for an in-person audition, for which he had to travel to Boston. Cutler was not called back — a clear indication that Thorpe had done much better than him on the first test, Cutler said.

When Thorpe moved on to the audition round in Boston, he said he had to take another exam, participate in an interview and practice onstage with actual buzzers in front of show producers.

“I walked out of the audition thinking that there was no way I was going to end up on the show,” he said. “The odds are pretty small.”

In December, however, Thorpe was told that he had made it onto the show.

Jeopardy! films its episodes in Los Angeles, so Thorpe flew out for two days of filming, which happened to take place during finals week of this past winter term. Fortunately, his professors were lenient and allowed him to take his finals early, he said.

Although Thorpe already knows who won and how the competition went, he said he cannot disclose any information before the episode airs as per his contract.

Cutler said that the nondisclosure agreement has made watching the week-long competition and anticipating Thorpe’s participation much more fun.

“He promised us it’ll be a good episode,” he said. “It’s a thrilling game to watch when [Thorpe] … really plays.”

For Thorpe, the experience of competing in Jeopardy! was as much an “honor” as it was an “overwhelming” event because he was the sole student representing the College. He remembers feeling a little nervous, especially before going onstage to compete. Since his episode was filmed last, he had to wait while other competitors were able to compete before him. To add to his nervousness, each of the game topics were not disclosed to any of the competitors prior to the competition, which made preparation more difficult. He added that the game is about reflex and the mind, as players always have to be ready to buzz the instant host Alex Trebek finishes reading the clue.

Stanford University sophomore Josie Bianchi has tried out for Jeopardy! twice, but this was her first time making it onto the show.

Bianchi’s passion for trivia developed in her childhood, where she would play games like Brain Quest and Trivial Pursuit, which dealt with memorization, trivia and facts. In high school, she started watching Jeopardy! more often with her mother, who later motivated her to try out for the game show, she said.

Bianchi’s first attempt to join the show was unsuccessful, but her mother pushed her to try again once she began college.

The best preparation for the game was to just watch past episodes and try to pick up on patterns, she said.

“I started using a pen to ring in and practice answering in the form of a question,” Bianchi said. “I wanted to get the timing right, although I really think it’s something you get lucky with because you can’t really know what it’s going to be like.”

Georgia Institute of Technology freshman Rishab Jain, who will compete in the show’s semifinals, was one of three freshmen to participate in the competition. He said the experience initially felt “intimidating” because he did not think he would be placed in the same competition as upperclassmen, but that feeling went away as he got to know the other competitors better and became more comfortable with them.

Jain said he felt more comfortable being onstage competing than waiting for his turn in the waiting room with the other competitors.

“I kind of struggled a little bit early on in the game, but I felt like I kind of got into the groove of things pretty easily,” he said. “Then I just started having fun with it, because you know, if you’re up there, and you only get so much time up there, you might as well make the most of it.”

Boules said the roommates’ Jeopardy! tradition continues to this day, especially this week when the competition’s episodes air on TV.

“I think the best part is hearing all his comments about the other competitors,” he said. “It makes [watching the competition] more real when talking to someone who’s been there … It’s super exciting.”