Mehrun Etebari GRD ‘08 will take “Yalies who have competed on Jeopardy” for $128,000.
Etebari, who is currently a contestant on Jeopardy’s Tournament of Champions, won more than $128,000 over the course of five episodes last year — but it is unlikely he will progress beyond Monday’s round.
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The seventh highest-grossing winner in Jeopardy history, Etebari placed third of the three contestants competing in Monday night’s quarterfinal round of the tournament. His total winnings of $700 from the episode will most likely not be enough to earn him a wildcard spot in the semifinals next week.
Etebari competed on the show for five consecutive episodes in February 2007 after unsuccessfully auditioning three times during high school and college.
“I was always a big trivia nerd,” Etebari said. “So I went to auditions up and down the East Coast when I was in high school, trying to get on the teen tournament. I auditioned again for the regular version while I was at Brandeis, but I didn’t make it.”
The annual competition features the top 15 contestants from the previous year and the final round pits the top three contestants against each other, with the victor taking home the $250,000 grand prize and the first- and second-runners-up receiving a minimum of $100,000 and $50,000 respectively.
Of the 15 contestants featured on the Tournament of Champions, three compete in each of the five quarterfinal rounds. The highest-grossing contestant from each round progresses to the multiple semifinal rounds, along with four wildcard contestants, who won the next highest amounts among non-qualifiers. Six other contestants would have to win less than $700 for Etebari to advance to the semifinals.
Chris Mazurek triumphed in last night’s quarterfinal round with $17,999 in winnings.
Potential contestants are required to take a 50-question test and then undergo a mock game and interview process at a local audition. If candidates are selected, they can be called at any time during the year to be contestants on the show, Etebari said.
Etebari was first contacted in January to be a contestant on the show and subsequently became the seventh highest-ranking winner in Jeopardy’s 23-year run, according to Jeopardy’s official Web site. Etebari said his biggest splurge so far has been paying off his student loans.
“I’m still extremely cheap, and people were expecting free meals and drinks,” he said. “But I did take a trip to France.”
Etebari’s roommate Eliot Pence GRD ’08 said Etebari reveals his sizable trivia knowledge during weekend game nights.
“I realized that Mehrun was pretty good at the useless trivia games we would play on Friday nights,” Pence said.
Etebari said the Tournament of Champions was a bizarre social experience, and the only quality the 15 contestants had in common was their knowledge of random facts.
“The people at the Tournament of Champions are the nerdiest of the nerdy,” he said. “I was sitting with eight contestants, and we calculated that together we had won $1.3 million.”
Brady Cassis ’08 participated in Jeopardy’s College Championship earlier this year, and, like Etebari, finished third in the first round of competition. Cassis said he developed a lasting bond with his 14 fellow contestants during taping at the University of Southern California.
“We had finally found equivalent trivia nerds,” he said. “And we still keep in touch.”
Cassis is a former sports editor for the News.
Before Etebari’s loss aired last night, Internet chat rooms slated Etebari as the most likely winner based on his previous Jeopardy record.
One user said “Mehrun is the favorite,” and another admitted that he had used an online gaming site to bet money on Etebari.
During last night’s competition, Etebari did not receive any Double Jeopardy questions and in the Final Jeopardy segment of the contest, neither he nor the other contestants came up with the correct answer: Antarctica was the correct response to the statement, “This area’s name is from the Greek meaning ‘opposite the bear.’”
Pence, who said before the episode aired that he believed Etebari would win the entire tournament, is still in awe of his roommate’s talent.
“There’s no telling how much is going on in that head of his,” he said.
Jeopardy’s Tournament of Champions is airing nationwide Nov. 5 to Nov. 16.