At least on Thursday and Friday of last week, Ray Sun, a fourth-year in the College, knew the right answers when he competed on Jeopardy!
An active member of the U of C College Bowl team, Sun won the first game and placed second in the next game, earning a total of $30,201. The shows were taped on August 8 at the Culver Picture Studio in Culver City, California.
In both games, Sun reached the “Final Jeopardy!” round in the lead. In the first game, he defeated the returning champion by naming the events that marked the beginning and end of the “long 19th century.” Sun said he knew the answer—the French Revolution and World War One—because he remembered browsing the University’s College course catalog and reading the course description for a political science class fortuitously titled “The Long 19th Century.”
“The U of C is just a place where you pick stuff up like that,” Sun said. “If there is a college where just, by osmosis, being there makes you better at Jeopardy!, it’s Chicago.”
Sun said he played a better second game, but wasn’t as lucky. “[In the first game], I was lucky enough to hit two daily doubles, and I wagered aggressively,” he said.
Despite a lead that took him through “Final Jeopardy!,” Sun was unable to name Nicosia, Republic of Cyprus, as the city whose web site designates it the last divided capital in Europe. The other contestants answered incorrectly as well, but Sun wagered enough for another contestant to overtake him.
Sun hoped the question categories would favor his strengths. He was happy to see “The War of 1812,” but was “not so confident” when “Television Animation” came up, adding that his main strengths lie in science, literature, and history.
“Those are what I’m used to playing on for college quiz bowl—more academic than general knowledge and popular culture,” he said.
Sun said he didn’t get much face time with the show’s host, Alex Trebek. “Trebek is very professional, to the point of being aloof,” Sun said. “He doesn’t really talk to the contestants more than he has to.”
His audition process began this past June, when he was invited to audition in person after passing an online knowledge test.
“It was Friday of finals week. I was sleep deprived from finals week stuff, and at nine in the morning I threw on a suit and got on a bus to Navy Pier…and took another 50-question test,” he said.
After passing this test, Sun was invited back for a personality assessment, during which several potential contestants were gathered in a room and asked to make conversation.
“It’s your chance to make an impression,” Sun said. “They see who’s telegenic. I survived that, and sometime in June got a call inviting me on.”
Sun said he originally intended to practice for the show over the summer, but preparing for law school got in the way.
“I planned to study what I thought were my weaker categories, like the Emmy Awards and the Oscars, but ended up spending the entire summer studying for standardized tests,” he said.
Even without studying, Sun had a strong knowledge base from playing Quiz Bowl in high school and College Bowl throughout his U of C career. He also attributes his success on the show to an early interest in academics.
“I remember back in fifth grade I sucked at sports, so [academic competition] was how I defined myself,” Sun said. “I won a bunch of spelling bees. It’s sort of part of my identity.”
When it came down to the wire, Sun said his strategic buzzer timing also gave him a competitive edge. He said it’s crucial to buzz in “as soon as Trebek finishes the question,” adding that this strategy gave him a slight advantage during the first game.
And what’s the plan for his winnings?
“The money is going to pay for less than one year of law school, and a lot of the money will just disappear into the hands of our government,” Sun said. “I’m not rich.”