Q&A with Jeopardy! contestant Sathvik Namburar Med'22

by Eliza Gallant | 1/7/20 2:05am

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Namburar, a second-year medical student at Geisel, appeared on Jeopardy! in November and won his first game.

Source: Courtesy of Sathvik Namburar

Sathvik Namburar Med ’22 appeared on Jeopardy! on Nov. 19, winning his first game. Namburar lost his second game, though he said that he still loved the experience and appreciated all it taught him. The Dartmouth sat down with Namburar to ask about his two games, Alex Trebek and advice for viewers playing along at home for today’s start of the “Greatest of All Time” tournament.

What prompted you to want to be on Jeopardy?

SN: It was always a little bucket list thing that I had. I grew up watching it, and it is just something that I thought would be really cool to be a part of and to get to see how much I know while competing against other contestants. Anyone could be on the show, so I thought that I might as well try out. And I made it on. 

What was the process like? How were you selected? 

SN: They have an online test, which is 50 questions. The test is just random questions like, what is the capital of this country? Or, who wrote this book? If you do well on the test, then you get called in for an in-person audition. So I went to Boston for my audition. I took the online test in April, and I auditioned in Boston in May. If you do well on that, then you get called on to the show. I got the call in August, and I taped in September. It’s crazy — there are 80,000 people who took the online test. Then, they narrow it down to 400. I just got super, super lucky. Besides passing the test, I don’t really know what they look for in terms of criteria. The test questions were similar to the ones on the show, but a little bit harder. I think you have to get around a 70 percent. I think they want people who have a good television presence, which I don’t know if I have or not.

How did you prepare for your time on the show? 

SN: I found out in August that I would be taping in a month. So I got this huge encyclopedia that I read, or at least skimmed. I just watched the show every day. They gave us a pen, which is like a buzzer, and I would play along with the show and buzz with my pen just to get the timing down. I didn’t prepare for the audition or anything, but after I found out that I made the show, I watched a lot of past shows and tried to figure out the timing and what my weak subjects were. So for example, I was really weak at the Bible, so I read online on Wikipedia about the Bible and the different books of the Bible and things like that. 

What was the most challenging aspect of being on the show?

SN: Just the nerves of being on stage and seeing Alex Trebek for the first time in person. It was difficult to try and answer questions while going against two really, really smart people who also know mostly everything. So there were a few instances where I forgot who wrote Winnie the Pooh and things like that, which I normally know. It’s just that the nerves get to you and you’re just trying not to say something embarrassing. Nerves to me were the hardest thing to conquer, and there’s no way to prepare for that. 

Participating in the show after being a long-time viewer, how did your conception of the show change? 

SN: My conception of Trebek really changed. I have so much respect for him because he was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer, and he is still hosting the show. He is so brave to do that. And he told a story about how, in between shows, he would often be keeled over, throwing up because he’s just so sick from the chemo. He doesn’t even have his own hair anymore. He just looks kind of sick in person, but for him to push through that and continue to host the show, I just have so much respect for him after seeing that. 

Jeopardy! fans worldwide have been rooting for the recovery of the show’s long-standing host. What do you think Alex Trebek’s public battle with cancer means for the show’s viewers? 

SN: Alex Trebek is a legendary figure. He’s larger than life. And for him to be so public in his battle is just amazing. I think it kind of normalizes — not that the disease is normal — but it just kind of continues to normalize the conversation that we have around disease and how to handle it and grief and grieving and preparing for death and mortality. These are all very important conversations that we don’t necessarily have in the public sphere. He has contributed to kind of normalizing those conversations. 

With the upcoming “Greatest of All Time” tournament about to air, what advice do you give to viewers playing along at home? 

SN: I was told that the “Greatest of All Time” questions are going to be more difficult than average Jeopardy! questions. So don’t get discouraged, because it will definitely not be a reflection of yourself or how you would do on the real show. Those three people — James, Ken and Brad — are just phenomenal players. They’re just incredible. And so don’t measure yourself against them for sure. 

If you could play again, what would you do differently? Would you like to be on Jeopardy! again?  

SN: I would definitely love to be on Jeopardy! again. It was so much fun. The staff is incredible. They prepare you so well. They’re so energetic and lively. You have nothing to lose, right? So, I just had a great time. When I won the game, it was probably one of the best feelings I have ever had in my life. I lost the second game, and I started off with the category in French. My fellow contestant was a French major. So if I had known that, I would not have started off with French because she got on a roll and then it was too hard to catch her. But there’s not much I would change. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.