From the comfort of her dorm room to the big screen, trivia fanatic Rebecca Rosenthal ’20 represented Swarthmore in this year’s Jeopardy! College Championship. She, along with fifteen other college students from around the nation, put her trivia and Quiz Bowl background to the test as she lived out her dream of being on the show.
This past Thursday, April 12, and Monday, April 16, Rosenthal’s tournament was nationally aired on ABC. On Thursday, Rosenthal competed in the quarter-finals with two other contestants, Carson from Vanderbilt and Harry from The University of Chicago. On this episode, Rosenthal had acquired more than double her competitors’ earnings by Final Jeopardy, finishing with $26,000.
Rosenthal was the only contestant to answer the Final Jeopardy question, “In 1546 architect Pierre Lescot began rebuilding King Francis I’s palace, which is now this museum,” correctly, answering “the Louvre.” She found herself in the quarterfinals after wagering zero dollars on her answer. Unfortunately, on Monday’s episode, Rosenthal did not advance to the next round.
“On Thursday, I was at more than twice Carson’s total, meaning she couldn’t come ahead, so I decided to take it easy and bet nothing,” Rosenthal wrote to the Phoenix. “On Monday, once I saw that the question was something I was super confident on (Greek Mythology), the only way I could win is if William, a competitor that episode, got it wrong. I had no idea what he would bet, so I tried to maximize my chances by betting it all in case he screwed up his bet or got it wrong.”
While Rosenthal was filled with nerves and anxiety on and off the camera from the moment she began filming to the day her episode aired, her peers were filled with excitement to see one of their own take the Jeopardy stage. From her closest friends at her viewing party to crowded tables with people hovering over laptops in Sharples, students across campus were filled with anticipation.
“It was really thrilling and I was so pumped! I’ve always liked Jeopardy and I really get into game shows, so adding someone I knew and having personal stake in it through one of my friends being on it was super cool and made me more invested in the game and her progress,” Victoria Lee-A-Yong ’21 wrote.
Lee-A-Yong and many other students attended the party thrown by Rosenthal for the airing of her first episode. The room was filled with people cheering and screaming after every question she got correct. Her friends were excited to see their friend do so well.
“I met Rebecca through the Tempest — she was my costume designer. Rebecca is very sweet. She works really really hard and is such a dedicated talent. She’s honestly a great person to know,” Lee-A-Yong wrote.
Rosenthal is no novice to the world of Jeopardy and has always liked the show and trivia as a whole.
“My family and I watch it everyday when I am at home and it is something I really love,” Rosenthal said. It’s like quiz bowl, which is something I already do. I’ve always loved the show and I have always wanted to be on it.”
Her love for trivia extended beyond her childhood and followed her to college as she revived the college Quiz Bowl team at Swarthmore.
“There was a quiz bowl team in middle school that played a local league and I was pretty good at that. I have always been one of those weird, nerdy, fact kids,” Rosenthal said. “I did that in middle school, and we competed in a competition that was hosted at my high school in real quizbowl format, and I was hooked. I played all through high school and in college.”
In her attempt to fulfill this dream, Rosenthal went through a rigorous application process. Every year or so, an online test is released for students and adults to take and if they do well enough, they are offered an in person interview. If given the opportunity to have an interview, the potential contestants are given a trial game and a decision is made from there.
“I have taken the online test a bunch of times,” Rosenthal said. “I was always taking the adult test even when I was under 18, just to see if I could. I took the teen test and did not get an audition. In October of 2016, I took the college test, got an interview, but did not get it, then took the adult test and surprisingly got an interview, but still did not get on the show. I decided to take the college test again the next year, got the interview again, took another test during my audition to prove I didn’t cheat, and got the call in December of 2017 that I would be on the show.”
After three attempts, Rosenthal made her debut on the show. With that reality came concerns about being on television and the preparation process while still a full-time student.
“I was worried about two things. Obviously I was wondering what the questions were, and I felt like I could study for it like I would for quiz bowl, but I was super busy. I was going to study over winter break, but forgot, so I studied while I was at Swat. I learned a list of capitals and that was about it. I was more concerned with being poised and the buzzer. People say it is really hard, so over winter break, my family and I would watch the show and I would pretend to be a contestant with my pen pretending it was a buzzer and trying to remember what I should study for the real thing,” Rosenthal said.
With some buzzer practice under her belt and trivia facts in her head, Rosenthal was on her way to the main stage, which proved to have its own challenges.
“I think the hardest part was actually being on stage. It’s so easy to play from the couch, but when you are on the stage, trying to read in real time, and click the buzzer at the right time, it is a lot to balance. I could actually feel my foot shaking when the lights on the stage turned on and they told me to smile. But at some point you just get in the zone,” Rosenthal said.
The realm of Jeopardy proved to be intense, but when she was not calculating her button pushing, she had time to interact with her fellow contestants and host, Alex Trebek.
“Alex is super professional and is really good at what he does. You only get to see him for a little bit though. He is always talking and joking around which is why his mouth is open in our picture together,” Rosenthal said. “I remember when that picture was taken and Alex came to me and said, ‘You ready for your picture Becky?’ I must have tensed up because I hate being called Becky and he said, ‘I guess you don’t like being called Becky now do you?’… He is honestly really funny and I think he really loves his job because he actually follows along and always has something interesting to say.”
After experiencing these challenges, interesting interactions with Alex, and hours of continuous filming, Rosenthal threw a watch party with close friends which made for an exciting and awkward time for the Jeopardy contestant.
“It was really weird to see my face on TV because no one really likes to see themselves or hear themselves speak. I couldn’t tell you what happened on Monday’s episode, but for some reason I really remembered Thursday’s episode. I knew I was going to say something stupid or when I was going to make a face, and having everyone there was kind of scary,” Rosenthal said. “I knew most of the people [at the watch party], but a lot of people were just there screaming and cheering and booing Carson and Harry. It was just a lot of fun and just felt like a lot of love and support.”
For this quiz bowler, being on Jeopardy was both a fun and overwhelming experience. While it may have taken some time, Rosenthal was able to live out her dream.