Cindy Cammarn ’14′s Jeopardy!-watching habit started when she was just five or six years old. “I’ve always been a trivia buff,” she admitted. Her middle- and high school years, in Charlotte, N.C, were filled with trivia bowls, and her school team of fact mavens regularly competed and did well in national championships.
Now, she’s taken her passion to the highest level — she’s a competitor on Jeopardy!’s College Championship. “I have a good brain for facts,” she said, “and what I’m good at is what Jeopardy loves to cover — history and literature.” Cammarn is a history and English major, and a theater minor.
Cammarn will be Bowdoin’s first student contestant on Jeopardy!, at least as far back as 1984, which is when Alex Trebek started hosting the game show.
This past weekend, Cammarn flew out to Los Angeles, Bowdoin College sweatshirts packed and ready to wear, to tape as many as 10 shows over two days. The College Championship will be broadcast for two weeks, from May 6 through May 17. Results are top-secret until then.
The journey to Jeopardy! for Cammarn has been a long one. Although in some sense she has been training since she was young, she didn’t start thinking about competing on the show until she heard last year they were auditioning students for the 2013 College tournament. First, she took an online test in April 2012. Several months went by before she learned she had passed and was eligible to try out for the show in Boston in the fall.
In Boston last November, she met her competitors: “Everybody was so impressive. There were a ton of people from Stanford, Georgetown, the Ivy Leagues,” she said. And she got practice with the buzzer. The secret to winning Jeopardy! is being facile with the buzzer, she said. “Most candidates know 80% to 90% of the answers,” she noted.
The candidate coordinators instructed all the students contestants to have fun while they auditioned. Besides staging mock competitions, the candidates were interviewed and had to take another test on a range of topics. “They were looking for people who were pretty relaxed about the process,” Cammarn said. Knowing that, Cammarn said she “tried to stay composed,” even though she was panicking inside.
Then, in early March, Cammarn got the news. She was going to compete in the televised College Championship with 14 others who had auditioned in different cities around the country. Over spring break she said she had a lot of time to prepare — she watched Jeopardy! religiously and kept up her habit of reading magazines such as the Guardian and The Atlantic.
And she had a lot of time to dwell on what could go wrong. “I only had a Jeopardy! stress dream once,” she said. “I wasn’t doing very well and wasn’t able to get to the buzzer.” But returning to Bowdoin for a few days before the competition was helpful. “It’s nice to be back at Bowdoin and have something else on my mind.”