Story by Sofia Anrecio, Photo by Tiffany Liu

With its timeless host and iconic theme song, Jeopardy! is a classic American game show, and tonight, the show will feature a participant that hits close to home: second-year UF Honors chemistry major Kayla Kalhor. Since 1989, the show has hosted a two week-long College Championship for undergraduate college students. Kalhor is the third UF student to compete, and the first to return in 24 years. 

Originally from Longwood, Fla., Kalhor began taking an interest in the show during her junior year of high school when she joined the brain bowl team. Here at UF, she is involved with the quiz bowl team. As her experience with trivia competitions grew, she began to consider the possibility of appearing on Jeopardy! “Realistically I was getting a lot of answers correct and I thought, I think I could appear on the show and do well for myself,” said Kalhor. 

While Kalhor is also minoring in physics on an intensive STEM pathway, she has proven to be a polymath to any subject Jeopardy! throws at her. To begin the application process, prospective contestants take a timed online quiz and await a phone call from producers. Following the call, Kalhor traveled to St. Louis, Mo. for a follow-up audition.

Kalhor broke the news to friends and family before diving into a study routine to prepare. Using a fan-made website called J-archive, Kalhor had access to every set of questions from all previous College Championships. “I tried to see what categories came up a lot and studied based on that,” said Kalhor. Using this repository of trivia, she focused on literature, but is a fan of the word play questions. 

A few months later, it was time for the voyage to California, where the show provided for her family to stay at the Culver Hotel. Over their four night stay, she and other contestants became acquainted with Sony Pictures Studios. “We had some rehearsals just to get comfortable using the buzzer and to see the setup of the stage,” she said. 

In addition to getting situated, Kalhor met her competitors, with students representing schools such as Indiana University, Yale, Carnegie Mellon, and more. “There was definitely a lot of competition among us contestants, but we are all pretty good friends now. We even have a group chat to keep in touch,” said Kalhor.

On the day of filming, Kalhor had the support of family and friends in the crowd.

“My mom and dad accompanied me and got to sit in the crowd, along with some family friends. It was nice having some members of the crowd rooting for me.”

While she cannot reveal details about the show’s results, Kalhor felt confident when the cameras started rolling. “I was nervous during rehearsal, but when I got up there and actually started filming, I wasn’t anymore. The nerves just went away and I’m thankful for that.” 

Kalhor advises anyone thinking about competing on Jeopardy! to try it out. “The first step is just an online test. If you get the call back, study subjects you are not great at and try to pick up your speed, practice on the buzzer if you can,” she said.

Kalhor’s appearance in the College Championship airs on Apr. 7 at 7:30 p.m. EST, during which she will be gathered with friends and family for a watch party.