“Jewish Pitt Students” is the subject, and here is the clue. Between Feb. 1 and Feb. 12, this senior at the University of Pittsburgh will appear on “Jeopardy!”
Who is Sarah Dubnik? That is correct.
Dubnik, a chemistry and computer science major at the University of Pittsburgh, is one of 15 college students competing in the “Jeopardy!” college championship for a chance at $100,000 and a spot in the next Tournament of Champions.
Although taping of the show occurred last month, at the time of this interview Dubnik’s appearance had not yet aired. Without revealing any outcome of her performance, Dubnik still shared much regarding her ethereal adventure.
“I left the experience on cloud nine,” said Dubnik. “Thinking back on it, it was almost like a dream.”
Dubnik’s “Jeopardy!” journey began approximately one year ago after she became “addicted” to j-archive.com, a self-described “fan-created archive of ‘Jeopardy!’ games and players” boasting nearly 300,000 clues.
Dubnik then registered and created a profile on the “Jeopardy!” website. She received an email informing her of an upcoming online test. The timed test included 50 questions. After performing well on the test, Dubnik was invited to audition in Columbus, Ohio.
“There’s another written test to make sure you weren’t cheating, there are mock games, and they interview you like they do on the show,” said Dubnik. The process is to see “if you can follow the rules and speak clearly.”
Following her November audition, Dubnik waited to hear back. Ironically, the day before she expected a decision, Dubnik broke her phone.
“I was worried that if I did get on the show they wouldn’t be able to get ahold of me,” she said.
Dubnik was right. After several missed calls, representatives from “Jeopardy!” emailed her.
“I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “I [had been] trying to call them all day, and I was trying not to get my hopes up.”
After connecting by phone, her application was reviewed, and the show’s reps finally told her that they were “really happy” to have her as a contestant.
Halfway through December, after completing her Pitt finals, Dubnik began training for the show.
She got in touch with two former “Jeopardy!” champions. “They gave me some advice and websites to look at,” Dubnik said.
She was told to practice by watching the game on TV. Accordingly, episode after episode, she stood, held a pen as her makeshift buzzer and practiced responding out loud. For studying, Dubnik continued with j-archive.com and relied on sociable support.
“I had some friends help me out,” she said. “I’m really bad with sports knowledge; [one] typed up a huge packet for me. Another friend did that with pop culture topics.”
On Jan. 3, Dubnik, her parents, brother and boyfriend flew to Los Angeles. Airfare and accommodations for each contestant and five guests were provided by “Jeopardy!.”
On Jan. 4, the group went sightseeing, and on Jan. 5 and 6 taping occurred.
Prior to arriving on set, Dubnik met the other contestants.
“All of us were staying in the same hotel,” she said. “[It was] a little nerve-racking; [I] couldn’t stop thinking how hard it was going to be competing against these people.”
Dubnik said that once in the studio, rehearsals were completed, and promos were shot. While seated in the audience of nearly 200, she heard a loud gasp. She realized that “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek had entered the stage.
“He came out in jeans and a denim shirt; his hair wasn’t perfectly combed yet, and it was funny seeing him not in a suit,” she said.
For her own dress, Dubnik was told to wear a Pitt sweatshirt.
“They told us to bring sweatshirts, preferably a few if we came back for another show, [and] not to wear jeans or shorts, something slightly more formal,” she said.
Now back in Pittsburgh, and without sharing too many details, Dubnik reflected on her “Jeopardy!” journey.
“It was just such a positive experience, and [I] really enjoyed spending time with the other contestants,” she said. “[It was] nice to make new friends.”
When asked what she would tell potential contestants, Dubnik said, “I would talk about how positive an experience it was. I would encourage people to try out.”
And perhaps as a testament to why she was on “Jeopardy!” Dubnik is now focused on other matters — specifically, applying for a doctorate in chemistry.
Whether appearing on “Jeopardy!” will aid her applications, Dubnik is unsure.
“I added it to the very end of my CV,” she said. “It’s a little note.”
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.