Teen showcases her smarts

Chosen from among 7,000, Centennial High student will appear on July episode of `Jeopardy!' with shot at winning at least $75,000

March 11, 2007|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,special to the sun

Most evenings at 7, the Gandhi family in Ellicott City watches Jeopardy! If they miss the 7 o'clock show, there's another on at 7:30.

The Gandhis -- mom Bhargavi, dad Devang, 17-year-old Kriti and 14-year-old Pratik -- don't yell their answers at the screen, exactly, but "we do call out the answers," Bhargavi said.

Like many people watching the popular game show, they can get frustrated when they know more than the contestants do. And for the Gandhis, that is often.

During an episode one day last fall, the family heard an announcement that the quiz show would be holding a teen Jeopardy! contest. Kriti and Devang decided to enter by taking an online quiz.

After several more hurdles -- including a trip to New York for an audition -- Kriti, a senior at Centennial High School, was chosen as one of 15 teens from across the country to compete in the Jeopardy! Summer Games Teen Tournament. She is the only teen from Maryland who will be in the televised show, the first summer games for the teen tournament.

"I didn't expect to be on it," Kriti said, with a wide grin.

She and her family flew to California on Friday for a week of taping, which is to begin tomorrow. The program is scheduled to air nationwide July 16-27. The top winner will collect at least $75,000, with every player guaranteed at least $5,000 in winnings.

Bhargavi Gandhi said the Jeopardy! people are paying for three tickets to California, but all four family members are going. She would not normally let her kids miss school, she said, but this is a learning opportunity in its own way.

Kriti has won many academic honors in her years in Howard County schools. She has been a science fair champion and was a second-place winner in the Stein Roe Young Investor Essay Contest. She is a school geography champion, and is on her high school's It's Academic! team.

She plans to go to college in the fall, but she is waiting to hear from all the schools before deciding which one to attend.

Qualifying for the Jeopardy! contest was not easy. More than 7,000 teenagers, ages 13-18, took the first online test simultaneously in October. "You just answered questions and you hoped you got them right," Kriti recalled. "There were a lot of academic things."

Before long, Kriti received an e-mail saying she was one of 300 teens nationwide who passed the online test. She was invited to New York City to audition for the show. In mid-November, the family drove to New York. Kriti took the test, which was held at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, and the family enjoyed a weekend of sightseeing. Similar audition centers had been set up elsewhere in the country, Kriti said.

She had no idea how she did, she said, but in early December, officials called her parents to say she had been accepted. However, her parents did not tell her right away. "They told us not to tell her," Bhargavi said.

There was a chance that members of a local ABC station would surprise her with the news and film her finding out that she was on the show, she said. But after a week, when that did not happen, Kriti's parents could not keep the secret any longer. "We asked if we could just tell her," Bhargavi said.

In mid-December, ABC did come to Centennial High School to interview Kriti, Bhargavi said.

Kriti said the regular Jeopardy! host, Alex Trebek, will be running the teen tournament. She is looking forward to meeting him, she said Thursday.

She does not know the kinds of questions to expect. Kriti said she is best at geography and math. "I'm a bit nervous about the pop culture, though," she said. She tries to keep her eyes and ears open to pick up information all the time, she said. Studying for the tournament is impossible because the questions are so far-ranging, she said, but "I've been reading the almanac and reading Wikipedia."

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