I'll take the Daily Double for $500, Alex

What's it like to compete on "Jeopardy!"? Caleb Richmond '21 tells all.

Genny Beckman Moriarty
November 1, 2018
Caleb Richmond '21 with host Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek

Caleb Richmond '21 (right) with "Jeopardy!" quiz show host Alex Trebek. Richmond competed in the 2018 Teen Tournament. Image courtesy of Jeopardy Productions, Inc.

A day student from Bedford, New Hampshire, Caleb Richmond ’21 is a geography and history buff with a love for Boston sports teams.

Richmond, who is member of the Model UN and the Jewish Community Club at Exeter, beat out nearly 10,000 other contenders to land a spot on the beloved quiz show’s “Teen Tournament,” during its 35th anniversary season.  

Tune in to watch Richmond’s network debut Nov. 7. He can’t divulge how well he fared, but he sat down with us recently to answer every question a “Jeopardy!” fan might ask.

You were on “Jeopardy!” Cross that off your bucket list, right? #lifegoals Yes! I’ve wanted to be on the show ever since I knew what it was about — I had actually taken the qualifying test in 7th grade, the last time there was a teen tournament, but nothing came of that.  

From one “Jeopardy!” fan to another, tell me about host Alex Trebek. What’s he like?  He's kind of no-nonsense, but during the commercial breaks he takes questions from the audience. He’s also kind of witty and has a sense of humor. The contestants are with the producers all day, and Trebek only pops out during the games. Between games, he changes the color of his tie so it seems like it's a different day.

During our practice game in the morning, he told us that the teen tournament is his favorite. We were all standing around the podium learning how to use it, and he just walks up, and we all go, "Oh my god, that's Alex Trebek!" because he's more of a being than a human.

How did you prepare for the tournament? I found an online list of 220 famous books and their authors. I made mnemonics and spent a week memorizing all of them. ... I also studied things like first ladies and presidents, and state nicknames — all those random tidbits of information that are good to know and not that hard to memorize. I started getting really nervous in the days leading up to it, so I stopped studying about five days ahead, to not freak myself out.

Viewers often see players struggling to buzz in. Does it take a while to get used to the buzzer? Yes, the buzzer is the hardest part! Only one person can answer a question at a time, and if you buzz in too early, then you're locked out for a bit, and if you buzz in too late then someone else is going to get to it before you. ... It's a dance with the devil!

Did you connect with the other contestants? We still talk all the time. It was only two days, but they're some of the best friends I've ever made. Whenever I tell someone that, they’re like, "Wow, you're friends with your competitors?" And I say, “Yes, because it's a group of sociable nerds.” ... We have so many inside jokes we can't tell anyone. I call it “the manifestation of all of our secrets.”

How does it feel to be a minor celebrity? Are your friends aware of the hype? The other contestants and I received our publicity photos with Alex Trebek the other day, and that was really exciting. Mine was in our local newspaper. ... It's a really small local newspaper, but you open it up and it’s like, "Wow, it's me." It's just strange. ... But my friends are high schoolers. They’re not really paying attention to all that!

Read on for more "Jeopardy!" trivia

How do you get to be on “Jeopardy!”? What’s the selection process like? I took the online qualifying test during March break of last year. Upwards of 10,000 people take the test. There’s some kind of passing margin — nobody knows what it is, they keep it secret — and then they choose a random number of people who passed and invite them to audition.

I was super excited when I got my email in June, because now I was just another step closer.  Luck played a big part in this. I could have done just as well but not made an audition, because they randomly choose people.   

Tell me a bit about the audition. It was in a conference room at a hotel. There were about 25 kids and two producers. We did some practice games and there were mock interviews ... It’s really all just a screen test. They’re looking to see whether you freeze up. ... Everyone's going to be nervous when they eventually get there, but they don't want people who can't hold a conversation.

How did you find out you’d been picked to be on the show? I was in the car with my mom and my brother when we got the official call. We were trying to keep our composure, and then we found out, and we were yelling so loud. That call was actually only 10 days after my audition. But in those 10 days, I was scanning the internet to find anyone saying, "Oh my god, I made the teen tournament."  They don’t call the people who don’t make it. The producers will say, “The only way you can know for sure you're not on it is when you see [the tournament] on TV.”