Business student wins big on college Jeopardy!

Not many people can say they’ve fulfilled one of their life’s dreams by the time they’re 20. But if you want to know what it’s like, then talk to business undergraduate Jayanth Iyengar, a recent contestant on the 2005 Jeopardy! College Championships tournament.

“I’ve been watching Jeopardy! since I was 8 or 9,” the junior said. “I always enjoyed playing along, and I wanted to audition for a long time, but every time I would check the Web site it would say ‘auditions are closed.’

Jayanth Iyengar
Jayanth Iyengar

“I checked this summer and it was open, so I applied. In July, I flew to Memphis to take the test.”

It’s been more than two month since Iyengar was at North Carolina State University to tape the shows, and he’s still glowing — not only from the thrill of having played, but also from making it to the final round. He placed third and received $25,000 in prize money.

Iyengar said at first he was disappointed that he didn’t win. After all, everyone plays the game to win.

“I figure that I was selected from 800 to 1,000 people and then I was part of this group of 15 who were on the show,” Iyengar said. “I found out later that a lot of these guys had tried three or four times to even get to the tryouts.

“I just applied once and made it to the tryouts and got on the show. I think I had a tremendous amount of luck.”

Iyengar said that the thrill of playing on Jeopardy! was matched by the fun he had meeting the other 15 contestants and one alternate. He said they were an interesting mix of people with different experiences.

The one thing they all had in common was their passion for trivia, a fact that became evident to Iyengar when he and his peers trekked to a Baskin Robbins for some ice cream one afternoon.

“While we were ordering, someone started naming off presidents,” Iyengar said. “I don’t know why, but suddenly the whole thing became a group, roundtable effort to name the presidents in order.

“There weren’t that many people in the store, but they were probably very confused.”

The camaraderie Iyengar had with his fellow players lasted into the competition. During the finals, Iyengar started falling behind while one of his peers, Nico Martinez from Stanford University, steamed ahead and eventually won the championship.

Still, Iyengar had nothing but praise for his competitor.

“Nico was so dominant,” Iyengar said. “He seemed to have a sixth sense on knowing just when to hit his button. I think Nico, Adam (Pinson from the University of Alabama-Birmingham) and I were well-matched.

“It could have been any of us that won. It really came down to his timing on the buzzer and his knowledge.”

Iyengar said he would love to repeat the experience, but he probably won’t ever have the chance.

“Under current rules, I would not be able to appear on adult Jeopardy!” Iyengar said. “But I’d do it again. It was such a phenomenal experience.

“I was living out a childhood dream.”