Courtesy of Jeopardy! Productions

Sebastian Torres ’23’s appearance on the popular quiz game show “Jeopardy!” started out as a joke between roommates, and ended with a $10,000 prize on Tuesday night. 

Torres joined 36 other college students in the Jeopardy! National College Championship this week. In his round, which aired at 7 p.m. Tuesday on ABC, Torres competed against two students from Duke University and Carnegie Mellon University and placed second. 

Although his second-place finish was not enough to earn him a spot in the semi-final round, Torres said that his experience on Jeopardy! was still wonderful, especially as it began as a mere joke between him and his friends when a roommate suggested he take the online college Jeopardy! quiz for fun.

“My roommate Cooper came up to me and handed me his laptop. As a joke, he told me to take the College Jeopardy quiz,” Torres said. “I took it mostly for fun, but by a crazy chance I advanced through all the interviews. A few months later I was on ABC.” 

On ABC Tuesday night, Torres ended the first round in second place with $3,800, and finished the second round with $10,200. Competing for a spot in the semifinals, Torres lost a majority of his money after incorrectly answering the Final Jeopardy question while wagering $10,000. Although he is not moving forward, he was awarded a $10,000 prize for his final position in the College Championship. 

“My trivia preparation was just me doing what I normally do. I didn’t really need to go out of the way for anything,” Torres said. 

Only 36 out of the 26,000 college students who apply make the cut to compete in the National College Championships. Competing students are selected through a multi-step interview process which follows an initial online test.

Following the interview process, Torres’ roommates were the first ones to find out he was going to appear on Jeopardy!. 

“I knew Sebastian entered the process a while before he was accepted,” roommate Eli Simon ’23 said. “Once he told me he was going to be on the show, I was beyond excited, but not surprised; Sebastian is an amazing scholar with a reservoir of knowledge that never fails to amaze me.” 

Acting under a non-disclosure agreement, Torres was restricted in who he could discuss the matter with. He was unable to share the outcome of his round until it aired Tuesday night, and he only went public about his appearance on Jeopardy! within the last few weeks, although he has known for over a year. 

But some close friends and family members have known about Torres’ triumphs throughout the process. 

“I sat in on the initial auditions with him,” said roommate Cooper Newsom ’23, who initially encouraged Torres to take the entry test. “It was pretty clear from the bat that he was way more qualified than anybody on that Zoom [call]. But it’s hard to know with these things. We didn’t know for sure that he’d be on until he got a text from a producer.”

Torres said that answering the trivia questions themselves was the easiest part of the process. Makeup and hair appointments, flights across the country and the prize money that was on the line unnerved him the most.

But Torres said that during his week filming in Los Angeles, producers from Sony and ABC Studios did their best to keep the atmosphere fun and lighthearted.

“At least Sony did what they could to make the process as least intimidating as possible,” Torres said. “They made it more about playing a game of trivia with your friends than about filming a super intense competition.”

A self proclaimed “sponge” and “big quote guy,” Torres attributes his trivia success to an innate love for consuming media, through books, movies and random quotes. 

One of Torres’ competitors, Anna Multhalaly, spoke about having “a dedicated quiz bowl coach of four years” who guided her through the process and selected which college she attended.

Torres’ own Jeopardy! preparation was starkly different. Hangouts and nights out with his roommates formed the majority of his preparation process. 

“When we found out he was going to be on the show, we immediately doubled down on our usual weekly Jeopardy! watchtime, and as a suite we also started going to bar trivia every Tuesday at Trinity Pub,” Newsom explained. 

Torres’ roommates looked back on the preparation for his appearance on Jeopardy! as a relaxed and enjoyable process. 

“I like to think that the breadth of conversations we have late into the night and the movies we watch together lend themselves greatly to his preparation for Jeopardy,” Simon said. 

In high school, Torres started on his school’s trivia squad. At Yale, he competes as a member of the quizbowl team.

And just as trivia has played a role in his friendships at Yale, so too did it allow Torres to make friends during his time on Jeopardy!. The community within the competition space itself, Torres said, was like a “summer camp,” and he walked away from the competition with a collection of new friends. Several of his fellow contestants even ended up visiting him in his hometown of Tampa Bay, Florida.

“I didn’t expect this going in, but every contestant I’m now on speaking terms with,” Torres said. 

The next episodes of the Jeopardy! College Championship will continue airing at 8 p.m. every night up until the finale on Feb. 22. 

Alessia Degraeve covered student culture. She is an English major in the Saybrook College class of 2025.