Univ. student chosen for "Jeopardy!"
Ariella Weiss from the Justice spoke with Kornman over Zoom about his experience playing on "Jeopardy! National College Championship"; airing hours later that evening.
The Justice: I read in Brandeis Now that the competition started today; have you already gone on today? Are you doing it from Athens? How does that work?
Joey Kornman: It actually started airing yesterday: it wasn’t filmed live. We filmed it in Culver City, California from Nov. 19 to 24.
TJ: So you’re seven hours ahead — that would be — 3 a.m. right?
JK: Right. My episode is tonight at 3:30 a.m. Athens time but 8:30 p.m. EST.
TJ: So you're going to watch it at 3 a.m.?!
JK: I'm not going to stay up to watch it. Hopefully I'll be asleep; I already know what happens –– I also have a roommate.
TJ: What was it like being with other college students?
JK: There were 36 of us. It was really nice, and we were all getting friendly for a few days before we started playing. That was tough because you don't wanna compete against people you like, but then you're also more comfortable with them on stage.
TJ: Did you know anything about the topics beforehand? Like is there any way for you to prepare? Or is it just based on the knowledge you already have?
JK: I only crammed one subject, which was novels and authors. I wasn't gonna try to cram sports or pop culture which I know nothing about. You can actually psych yourself out by doing that.
The biggest thing is being comfortable on stage. It's more about being on stage than knowing trivia, if you study too much you could psych yourself out. In a lot of the games the person who knew the most wasn't the winner. My dad knows a lot of trivia, but he doesn’t think he could be [on] Jeopardy.
TJ: Do you see yourself as someone who’s comfortable being in the spotlight?
JK: Nothing prepares you for being on national TV. I saw Mayim Bialik come out, who’s a legitimate celebrity! And I had done local live [trivia] shows in high school. [For Jeopardy,] We had shot promos in the days before so I had already been on the stage. The “Wheel of Fortune” stage was just like another room to us. When we got, there everyone was all wide-eyed, but once we started going on-stage, it helped me get more comfortable.
TJ: Were your parents there for the filming?
JK: The only people that went were the contestants because of COVID. You were allowed to tell people that would have come with you to film if it wasn't COVID, so my mom knows the results. My dad doesn't want to know. He can't keep a secret!
TJ: So you’re in Athens for study abroad right, for a classics major: has that come up as a topic at all for the questions?
JK: I can't say any of the topics. I signed so many NDAs. I don't even remember a ton of [what was asked]; there was so much adrenaline while we were playing that I don’t remember specifics, so I'm also excited to watch it.
It's a known fact that I'm in one episode, but I can't confirm or deny anything beyond that.
TJ: Did you watch "Jeopardy!" a lot as a kid? Who or what gave you the push to apply to be on it?
JK: A lot of the people there have life-long attachments. My parents went to a filming there in the 80s; some had met Alex Trebek while he was still alive and promised him they’d be back. I don't have that deep connection. It's the pinnacle of trivia on TV in the mainstream; if you really are wanting to watch the highest level trivia, that’d be college level Quiz Bowl. With "Jeopardy!", everyone and their grandma knows it.
TJ: What was the application and interview process like to get on?
JK: I applied on a whim: you take a quiz, then another quiz, and then go on to the interviews … I know others from Brandeis and my high school quiz bowl team that got to the interview stage too. That was in January 2021, they got back to me in September. I had totally forgotten about it because I treated it like a joke. It’s super low commitment to do the quiz: it's like 50 questions. I did it my freshman year too. I don't know what was so alluring about my application [specifically].
TJ: Where were you when you got accepted? Was what that like?
JK: They literally text you. The text said there's a chance you can get on if you pass background checks, but nothing’s guaranteed yet. I was worried they'd be filming while I was in Athens. They asked if the dates in the fall [Nov. 19 to 24] worked for me and I asked if the dates in the fall [Nov. 19 to 24] worked for me, and I was like, ‘yeah, I guess!’ My mom thought it was a scam up until I was on the plane to California. I couldn't tell anyone except my parents for months. We got the go-ahead to tell people like a month and a week ago. Mayim Bialik put a promo that I was in.
TJ: Since it’s come out that you’ve been on the show, what have people’s reactions been?
JK: I’ve been getting messages from people I haven’t spoken to in years, like my third grade English teacher and my gym coach. It's so nice to see people coming out of the woodwork. I’m not from NYC or anything. I'm from West Hartford, CT. I did an interview with the Waltham Tribune and the local paper West Hartford, so it's nice to represent Waltham and my town. I hope I represented them well!
TJ: What’s been the craziest thing that’s happened while you were live?
JK: They run a tight ship. There's no sensational stuff that happened. There were some technical difficulties, nothing too crazy. If there was something technically wrong, they’d send a text to Mayim Bialik.
the Justice: Was there a question where you were really stumped? What was going through your head while playing?
JK: That’s another thing I can't really specify: there are a lot of questions that no one gets right, called triple stumpers.
I will say the "final Jeopardy!" is stressful with the music –– that's live, they don't put that in after –– so it’s stressful when you have 26 seconds to answer and that’s on while you're trying to think.
TJ: What’s it like doing "Jeopardy!" while doing school - did you miss much?
JK: It was the Friday to the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. I got back to CT the day before Thanksgiving so I missed like three days; a Friday, Monday, and a Tuesday, and then Wednesday we had off for break. With Zoom classes and stuff you're not supposed to use it unless you're sick, but if I needed to I could have Zoomed from my hotel room. Two of my professors made me tell why I needed that, and they both didn't really know how to respond when I said why. It's not like my family is going to Aruba for vacation. They were kind of blindsided. I don’t think they were expecting me to say that [I was going to be "on Jeopardy!".]
TJ: Overall, what’s been the best and hardest part of this experience?
JK: The toughest part was keeping it a secret: that I couldn't tell anyone was very difficult. We'd be at a dinner with family friends and "Jeopardy!" would be on, and someone would say, ‘Joey, you'd be so good at that!’ and my parents would just look at each other. "Jeopardy!" seemed to come up more times in that one month when I couldn't tell anyone.
The best part? The whole experience was amazing. I met great people. And I was up there thinking, like, ‘This is "Jeopardy!" I have a fun fact for the rest of my life. At the time it felt like a slog, but it actually went by way too quickly and it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. It's kind of indescribable.
I also didn't know hair and makeup were different people. I sat down in the makeup chair and she’d cake on a pound of makeup because I’m so fair, so my face would be like orange: a different color than my neck. I was in the chair for longer than anyone else, even the girls who had eyeshadow and stuff. She kept saying “you're too fair for TV,” and “it's always the boys who get the good eyelashes,” but I couldn't even respond because we weren't allowed to open our mouths when we were getting makeup done for COVID reasons. They were really strict about that.
TJ: So were you able to eat with other contestants, or did you have to do that in your rooms?:
JK: We could eat with other contestants. There were benches outside where it was two people to a table, but they were super strict about it.
TJ: So then it’s good you were in Cali, right? At least it was warm!
JK: It was actually super cold! When we were filming, it was cold in there [the studio] - they gave us sweatshirts but we couldn't wear any layers under them.
TJ: Jeopardy sweatshirts? Or school sweatshirts?
JK: No they bought me two Brandeis sweatshirts — they like, were steaming them because they thought it would make it look more professional. I already had the same one that I had bought myself and they made me wear theirs anyway. Onstage the strings were uneven so they also cut the strings off with scissors because they didn't like how they looked.
TJ: What other kinds of things did they have you do?:
JK: To ensure fairness they’d draw balls out of a jar to see who’d go on stage in what order. There's a lot of less high-tech, little things you wouldn't expect about the whole process. But it was also still, like, TV. There was an ‘applause’ sign and stuff.
TJ: So I guess tonight we’ll see the results!?
JK: Yeah! I’m excited for the watch party tonight, even though I'll be asleep. I'm expecting to wake up to many texts!
Note – "Jeopardy! College Championship" aired beginning Feb. 8 on ABC and is now available for streaming on Hulu.