ITHACA, N.Y.—When Catherine Zhang found out she had been selected to compete on the first year Jeopardy! National College Championship, she was beyond excited.

The collegiate version of the well-known trivia show featured “36 of America’s sharpest undergrads” who were selected in the fall. Zhang and another Cornell University student, Andrés Quijano, both participated in the challenge on Feb. 8, though Quijano could not be reached for this story.

Growing up, Zhang was a fan of the show and recalled watching it around dinnertime with her family.

“Last year, I took the online college test, and it was something I didn’t have any expectations for,” Zhang said. “I heard back from them and took another online test, then proceeded to the final round of auditions. In the fall of 2021, I learned that I was going to actually be on the show, which was super, super exciting.”

Zhang said that it was hard to know where to start in terms of preparing for the show, but that she kept taking online tests and looking at previous questions to be as prepared as she could be.

“I had some friends give me previous questions and I would answer in the correct phrasing, just to get in the habit of answering questions like that and making sure my reflexes and timing were right,” she said. While the questions can be on a wide array of topics like world geography, U.S. history and presidents, among others. The answer format must begin with “What is” followed by the competitor’s answer.

Zhang graduated from Cornell University in December 2021 with a degree in sociology and computer science, but she said she felt like the questions in her Jeopardy! round were designed to keep a fairly level playing field.

In most Jeopardy! games, there will be an unexpected category. In Zhang’s case, that category was flowers, which was something she said she hadn’t prepared for.

“I think that’s also why I’ve always loved the show and what gets me so excited to watch it — there’s always some fun, interesting category you’re not expecting.”

Though her career was short and sweet (individuals are only eligible to be on one Jeopardy! franchise game), she joked about future game shows. “I don’t know, maybe there’s more game shows in my future.”

Zoë Freer-Hessler

Zoë Freer-Hessler is a general assignment reporter for the Ithaca Voice. She has covered a wide range of topics since joining the news organization in November 2021. She can be reached at