NEW BOSTON — At the tender age of 16, rising Goffstown High School senior Kat Deabill has accomplished a life goal, one few will ever achieve at that: competing on “Jeopardy!”
“Right now, it still feels like it’s a dream,” Deabill said of the experience.
Beginning July 21, Deabill will be a contestant in the 29th annual “Jeopardy!” Teen Tournament. Along with 14 other students, aged 13 to 17, Deabill will compete for the $75,000 grand prize over the course of the two-week event, which concludes with a two-day final airing July 31 and Aug. 1.
The Teen Tournament brings out a select group of the nation’s brightest young students, many of whom are stars on the high school quiz bowl circuit. For Deabill, a longtime “Jeopardy!” fan and trivia lover, it’s an opportunity she’s been preparing for.
“I’ve been watching ‘Jeopardy!’ for years,” Deabill said. “I’ve always loved shouting the answers.”
Last September, Deabill took a 50-question test online to qualify for consideration for the Teen Tournament. When she found out the test was being administered on her birthday, she considered the coincidence too good to pass up.
“I got a call (in) late October … (from ‘Jeopardy!’) saying, ‘We would like to see you, we have an in-person audition in New York,’” Deabill said.
She and her mom, Wendy Deabill, went to the audition in early November, where she took part in another 50-question test, an interview and mock game play.
“I wasn’t expecting much from that,” she said. “And then, in about February, they called and they said, ‘Hey, guess what? You know, you’ve been picked to be a contestant!’”
Deabill made the elite final group of 15 contestants, which was narrowed down from 300 applicants at the auditions, and 300,000 who took the online test.
The next step for Deabill was to prepare for the tournament. As an avid “Jeopardy!” watcher and Granite State Challenge participant, she knew the questions would cover a huge swath of topics. Luckily, this was not an issue for her.
“I have the most random trivia facts for pretty much any subject,” Deabill said. “I love learning just random tidbits that really have nothing to do with every day stuff, but something that’s just kind of cool to learn about.”
As a contestant, Deabill was not allowed to contact former “Jeopardy!” contestants for advice, nor was she given study guidelines, so she focused her preparation mostly on playing strategy. She read a book by Ken Jennings, the winningest contestant in the show’s 30-year history, in which he emphasized buzzing in properly.
“Everybody on (‘Jeopardy!’) who is able to get to that level knows a lot,” Deabill said. “The key is being able to get (your answer) in on time. I would just watch ‘Jeopardy!’ and kind of buzz in along with them, using a pen, and practicing my reflexes.”
When the time came for Deabill to fly to Culver City, Calif., and record the tournament, she wasn’t sure what to expect from her fellow competitors. To her pleasant surprise, the teens formed a tight bond.
“I made 14 of the greatest friends while I was there,” she said, adding that she even attended the prom with one of her fellow contestants, Joe Taglic of New York City. “We’re all really close and talk all the time … Obviously, it was competition, but it didn’t really feel like (it) ... It was kind of like, you know, we’re all rooting for each other, no matter what.”
Kat Deabill also enjoyed getting to meet host Alex Trebek.
“He’s actually really funny,” she said. “(The) producers were all talking about how they love Alex.”
While she’s not allowed to discuss any details of the taping under contract, Deabill said viewers can expect to see her acting like herself.
“My mom said, because she was watching, I may have made a few silly faces while I was thinking,” she said. “I tried to be as energetic as I could be.”Deabill credits a great support team back home for getting her this far, especially her brother and sister-in-law, Ken and Marissa Lavoie; her principal, Frank McBride, who’s offered to host viewings of the Teen Tournament at Goffstown High School; her AP U.S. history teacher, Bob Ward; and her mom, who spent many hours helping her prepare.
The “Jeopardy!” Teen Tournament begins Monday, July 21 and can be seen on WBZ-TV Ch. 4 at 7:30 p.m. For more information, visit jeopardy.com.