Let’s make it a true daily double! Cornellians Andres Quijano ’22 and Catherine Zhang ’22 competed on the Feb. 8 show of Jeopardy!, answering questions pertaining to everything from kitchen appliances to global geography.
Zhang, who appeared in the annual Jeopardy! National College Championship hosted by Big Bang Theory actress Mayim Bialik, was dubbed among “36 of America’s sharpest undergrads.” Other colleges represented in the series include Caltech, Brown, Harvard, Yale and Stanford. Quijano was a contestant on the regular, syndicated version of the show that airs right before primetime.
“The best way I can think of to describe the experience overall is just surreal,” Zhang said.
Zhang, who graduated from Cornell in December with a degree in computer science and sociology, grew up watching Jeopardy! with her family in her hometown Pennington, New Jersey.
Her childhood background combined with her love for reading and trivia made Zhang the perfect contestant when an online college Jeopardy! test was released in the fall of 2020. After submitting the assessment and undergoing a few rounds of Zoom interviews, Zhang was selected to represent Cornell.
“It’s always been a dream to be on the show — I just never thought it could actually happen,” Zhang said.
Hailing from San Juan, Puerto Rico, Quijano, a government major, almost missed out on his opportunity to join the show after taking the online test.
“Last summer I decided to check my junk inbox, and I stumbled on an invitation for a Zoom interview! At first, I thought it was a fake email, but upon further examination I realized that it was real,” Quijano said. “Throughout the entire process, I was incredibly excited and incredulous.”
Finding out about his appearance on the famed show in late October, Quijano began preparing by watching daily episodes and reruns of Jeopardy!, though noting that there is no “foolproof way” to practice given the show’s immeasurably wide range of topics.
“Everyone that makes it on the show knows the majority of the answers on the board,” Zhang said, “so the real differentiator is often getting the timing of the buzzer exactly right.”
When the day of the show arrived, both Cornellians expressed feeling a sense of nervousness — but also excitement –– as the taping began. When asked about the hardest part about being on the show, Zhang replied with two words: buzzer speed.
Upon graduation, Zhang plans to live in New York, working as a full-time product manager at Schmidt Futures, a tech nonprofit founded by the former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and his wife Wendy Schmidt.
Quijano plans on taking a gap year after graduation to explore his interest in politics and eventually attend law school. Now returning to a snowy campus to finish his final semester at Cornell, Quijano looks back at his experience on Jeopardy! fondly.
“Being on Jeopardy! was one of the most thrilling experiences I’ve ever had,” Quijano said. “I am forever grateful to have had the honor to participate in my favorite TV show.”
The Jeopardy! National College Championships, which air on ABC and stream on Hulu, will conclude Tuesday. The champion is awarded a $250,000 prize, the runner-up will take home $100,000 and the third-place winner will leave with $50,000.
Correction, Feb. 23 9:15 p.m.: A previous version of this article inaccurately stated that Quijano and Zhang both appeared on the Jeopardy! National College Championship. While Zhang did compete in this annual primetime tournament, Quijano participated in the syndicated version of Jeopardy!, which airs right before primetime.