Laughter erupted throughout the Jeopardy! audience when Nathaniel Miller ’22 told Alex Trebek he had changed his major five times, saying he’s “indecisive, it seems.”

On Tuesday, Miller made his first appearance in the Jeopardy! College Championship, with a “weekly audience of 23 million viewers,” according to a press release. The annual Jeopardy! College Championship, hosted by Alex Trebek, pits 15 college students against each other for the grand prize of $100,000. For the first round in the college competition, Miller, who is from Miami, Florida, competed against Sophie Casarico, a junior at Florida State University, and Kayla Kalhor, a sophomore at the University of Florida. He won the round with a total of $24,001 and will be moving on to the semi-finals.

“I have been watching Jeopardy for as long as I can remember,” Miller said. “Over time, I saw myself getting better at it, and I knew that I would love to try out someday but it wasn’t necessarily something I had been eyeing intently for years. I heard about the online audition for the College Championship (through an Instagram ad actually) and figured I may as well try it, and luckily it worked out.”

The audition process for Miller began in September when he completed an online test. He then received an email a couple of weeks later inviting him to an in-person audition in Philadelphia. The in-person audition consisted of three parts: a 50-question written test, a short mini game with real buzzers where they were divided randomly into groups of three and then a short interview much like the one on the show, he said.

It was a few days into the spring semester, Miller recalled, when he received a call from one of the contestant coordinators with the news that he had been selected for the college championship.

“The first person I called was my girlfriend, Emily, who immediately started crying because she knew how much I hoped this would work out,” Miller said. “She had actually told me that morning that the contestant from FSU had already found out, so I already figured I wasn’t chosen. Afterward, I called my mom and then my grandma, both of whom also cried. Then I called my grandpa, who was extremely excited because he is the person who got me hooked on Jeopardy! as a little kid, so this is just as big for him as it is for me really. My mom was actually able to take time off work to meet me in LA, and we spent the off-time touring the city.”

The filming for the championship took place over Feb. 3 and 4, lasting the entirety of both days.

Miller believed that the most difficult part of the championship was “the nerves while you’re waiting to be called up to compete.”

“You aren’t told who or when you’re playing until you’re supposed to head out to the stage, so everyone sits in the green room super nervous, playing Uno and off-brand Jenga to pass the time,” Miller said. “Once I got out there and answered a few questions, all my nerves went away and I was able to focus on the game much better.”

The contestants on Jeopardy hailed from 15 colleges, ranging from the University of Florida to the University of Maryland to Princeton.

During the first round of the championship, Miller answered questions from categories such as “Silent Letter Words,” “What ‘ev’ er,” “Britain’s Lit” and “Health & Medicine.”

“As clichéd as this is, the people were definitely the highlight of the experience,” Miller said. “All of the contestants are such sweet, genuine people and I’m so happy to have gotten to know them. We all still text everyday and have Zoom calls every week. I really didn’t expect to find myself in such a tight-knit group in only 48 hours.”

Jeopardy! College Championship airs on television from April 6 to 17.

 

Khue Tran | khue.tran@yale.edu