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Pratt Senior Represents Duke on College Jeopardy! February 11

It may have taken seven years to ace the online quiz, but once Cameron Kim got to audition for a spot on Jeopardy’s college tournament, he made the most of it.

The biomedical engineering senior at Duke nailed the in-person interview and will appear on the long-running game show February 11 at 7:00 pm, locally on channel ABC-11.

“There were a lot of other contenders there who had already done the interview part two or three times before,” said Kim, who was one of the lucky 300 or 400 semi-finalists selected out of more than 12,000 hopefuls. “But I went into it just trying to have a good time and enjoy myself and hoping that would help me succeed.”

The initial stages of the Jeopardy process flew by. Kim took the online quiz in March and was emailed in April for the interview in Nashville, which took place the following month in May. But after the whirlwind was over, he had to wait for a phone call sometime in November to see if he was one of the 15 finalists selected to appear on the show.

Cameron Kim with Jeopardy host Alex TrebekOn the Monday before Thanksgiving, Kim was headed to class having just talked with his visiting mother that day about his diminishing chances, figuring he’d already missed his chance. But then he got a call from a strange area code.

“Luckily I was getting close to my parking lot when the call came, because my hands were shaking and I had to pull over,” recalls Kim. “I thought maybe they had made a mistake or were calling to say I was the worst interviewee and offer me a booby prize. But it was the call to fly to Los Angeles. After I hung up I just screamed in the car—I had to let something out.”

Kim’s mother and sister flew out with him to Los Angeles for the filming. All 15 finalists played the first day, with those yet to see the stage waiting in seclusion so as to not know the results of the previous rounds.

The winners of the first five contests in the quarterfinals moved on to the semifinals, as did the next four highest scorers. If later contestants knew what score they had to beat to move on, it would affect their play and give them an unfair advantage. After playing, however, the contestants sat in the audience, watched the others compete and sweated it out, waiting to see if they’d scored enough to move on.

“It was a surreal experience,” said Kim. “It’s been my dream to be on Jeopardy for a long time. Once I was up there, I wasn’t exactly star-struck, but I had to force myself to pay attention and focus. Otherwise, I would have been floating on air the entire time.”

Kim isn’t allowed to say how he fared, or whether or not he will appear in the second week of the tournament, where the champion wins the grand prize of $100,000. Nor did he mention whether the categories of genome editing and synthetic biology came into play. If they did, Kim would have had a distinct advantage--he’s graduating in May with degrees in biomedical engineering and mathematics and a certificate in genome science and policy. He’s conducted research on engineering new proteins and editing genes to correct disorders as a Pratt Research Fellow for three years under the tutelage of Charles Gersbach, assistant professor of biomedical engineering.

No matter what the categories were or how Kim did, however, he made the most of his time on the West Coast.

“Until I flew to Los Angeles, the furthest west I’d been was Nashville, and that was for the first Jeopardy interview,” said Kim, who is now traveling the country and interviewing for graduate schools. “Everyone was so friendly—we all wanted to win, obviously, and a little extra money never hurts—but we all made some awesome friends in those few days. You put 15 really passionate people in the same room who are all fulfilling their life dreams and it’s really cool the connections that you make.

“Everyone wanted to represent their school well and everyone played fantastically,” continued Kim. “It was an awesome tournament and I think that viewers will have a great time watching it.”