We’ll take San Diego Geniuses for $500, Alex.
The University of California, San Diego is among the 15 schools being represented at the 2020 “Jeopardy!” College Championship – and it’s all thanks to a 19-year-old named Alistair Gray.
Gray attends school at the La Jolla campus, where he double majors in computer science and linguistics; though, he originally hails from Sunnyvale, just outside of the city of San Jose.
And after dozens of quiz bowls in high school and college, Gray got his shot at the big leagues: “Jeopardy!” with Alex Trebek.
Gray will go head-to-head-to-head against Londyn Lorenz of the University of Mississippi and Kylie Weaver of Penn State. Their match-up will take place Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. on NBC 7.
“My favorite thing about the process was definitely the people,” Gray said. “It's weird how close sixteen super-competitive trivia nerds competing to win $100,000 can get over two days, but we somehow did it and all became great friends really quickly.”
Gray said the competitors even have group chats where they reminisce about the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and share top-secret memes about the show.
Thousands of students took the online “Jeopardy!” test, and Gray was one of the lucky few hundred to score an in-person interview. At his audition, which was in Los Angeles, he took another test and participated in a mock game.
Shortly thereafter, he got a buzz.
“I got the call while I was in class and didn't think the buzz was coming from my phone, which was in my backpack, so the call went dead. After class, I took my phone out and saw the area code was 310,” Gray told NBC 7.
The 19-year-old said he was told to watch out for that area code – a sure sign you made it on the show – according to a popular “Jeopardy!” subreddit Gray was on.
“I got very excited; after a few rounds of trading voicemails, I finally got through to them and they confirmed it,” he said.
It was official. Gray was going to represent UCSD on “Jeopardy!”
“I was honestly shocked, because I don't have a personality for TV,” Gray said. “This is one of those things that you dream about your whole life, but I honestly had never expected it to happen at all despite that.”
But it did happen. That is, the episode was recorded in early February – before the novel coronavirus had reached the U.S. in a big way.
Public health orders in San Diego and throughout California have since been issued to close schools and non-essential businesses, ban all social gatherings and keep people at least six feet apart to limit the spread of COVID-19, which has infected more than 400,000 Americans.
This makes having a celebratory watch party a little difficult.
“I had always planned to have a watch party - my freshman suite would watch Jeopardy together last year and yell answers at the screen, and I have no doubt they'd have given me the same treatment,” Gray said. “Instead, I'm hosting a virtual watch party over Zoom, where I'll livestream the show and my friends can all react together.”
Though, Gray found the silver lining in the situation.
“I can include everyone back home wherever they are and have many more people than would fit at a physical watch party. It's not actually the worst thing in the world!” he said.
Regardless of how Gray and his friends and family watch, nothing can take away his achievement of being one of only a handful of students who have ever competed on America’s Favorite Quiz Show.
New to the “Jeopardy!” tournament world? Here’s how it works: To begin, there are five quarterfinal rounds. The winners of these games move on to the semifinals. The four players with the highest scores across the week -- who didn’t win their individual games -- will also move on to the semifinals as wild cards. These nine semifinalists then compete in one of three new games. The winners of the semifinal games move on to a two-day championship round, where the 2020 “Jeopardy!” College Champion will be crowned.