College senior Mehek Boparai will represent Penn in this year’s "Jeopardy! National College Championship," starting next Wednesday at 8 p.m on ABC.
This year's College Championship will run from Feb. 8 to 22, hosted by actress and neuroscientist Mayim Bialik. Thirty-six college students — all vying for the title of "Jeopardy!" champion and a $250,000 grand prize — represent 36 different universities across the country. Boparai will appear starting the second episode which will air on Feb. 9.
Boparai — who previously worked at 34th Street Magazine as Focus Editor and Culture Editor — joins the ranks of seven Penn students who have previously participated in the College Championship in the past. She filmed the episodes in Los Angeles in November 2021. Boparai said she remembered being in awe that she was filming at the same time that "Jeopardy!" contestant Amy Schneider was on a historic winning streak.
Being on "Jeopardy!" has been a dream of Boparai for years, she said.
“I’ve always wanted to see — not myself on it — but I wanted my parents to see me because we watched the show every night," Boparai said. "I know some people want to buy their parents a house or pay off their family’s mortgage, but, for me, it’s always been that I wanted my dad to see me on 'Jeopardy!'”
While Boparai was attending classes at Penn from her home in California during the 2020-2021 academic year, she added that she spent lots of time watching "Jeopardy!" with her family.
“In the evenings, my family would [watch recordings of] a bunch of reruns," Boparai said. "We would watch three episodes a day. This went on for months."
Boparai first heard about the College Championship application in October 2020 when her friend emailed her about a 50-question preliminary test called “Jeopardy! College Anytime Test.” After achieving a high percentile, she went through an additional round of testing before she was invited back in January 2021 for a final interview. Boparai received a final call in October 2021 congratulating her on becoming a contestant.
“I had completely forgotten about this entire 'Jeopardy!' thing, and then I was laying in bed in October, and I got this call from one of the producers. I immediately started running around the house. When I hung up, I just immediately burst into tears,” Boparai said.
She added that she was only allowed to tell her closest friends and family the good news, since "Jeopardy!" forbids contestants from publicly announcing their participation prior to the show's promotion.
To prepare for the game, Boparai spent hours watching past "Jeopardy!" episodes.
“I watched every single game ever available online. My friends would come over and, routinely, we’d stay up for hours watching it, and we played a lot of mock 'Jeopardy!' as well,” Boparai said.
College senior Arjun Jain helped Boparai train by going through archives and trivia websites.
“It was extraordinarily impressive how much information she learned over those couple months after watching all those archives and old competitions," Jain said. "I got a renewed sense of admiration for how much [the contestants] prepare and how much knowledge they need to know off the top of their head."
While Boparai said that she can't discuss her performance or the questions in detail, she said that her strong suit is in literature categories, as an English major and former 34th Street editor.
Boparai said she had little issue memorizing facts on topics she was interested in like history and literature, but she avoided one topic entirely.
“I didn’t touch sports because I was like, 'This is an entire field of knowledge I will not learn,'” Boparai said.
Boparai plans to watch her "Jeopardy!" debut on Wednesday with her close friends, including Engineering senior Tirtha Kharel.
“All of us, all of her friends are really proud of her. It’s just really exciting to see someone you know really well represent your school at this level," Kharel said.
Weeks after taping, Boparai said that the whole experience has still not sunken in.
“I still think to this day it’s an experience I just have not processed. Being at the podium and then writing my name," Boparai said. "I was like 'Oh my god, that’s me!'"