Terry O’Shea ’16 won first place in Friday’s final round of the Jeopardy! College Championship, making her the winner of $100,000 and the first Ivy League student ever to win the college edition of the trivia show.
In the last question of the final, the points garnered from the “Final Jeopardy” question and the combined total of the previous days gave O’Shea the win. However, at the beginning of Friday’s show, she found herself in last place with -$800 after incorrectly answering her second question.
The final question asked for the name of the territory given to the British Empire by Spain in the late 18th century, the answer being Gibraltar. O’Shea explained that luck had a lot to do with this Jeopardy! win.
“It’s a very strange thing. The night before the finals, I was reviewing in my room, and I happened to go on the Wikipedia page for Gibraltar,” O’Shea said in an interview Friday. “I read over it, so it was fresh in my mind. Then I went into the Final Jeopardy in the final, and the answer was Gibraltar. It was just a weird kind of coincidence.”
O’Shea said when it was announced that she won, she first felt disbelief, then happiness.
“Physiologically, I felt very strange; like I felt very fizzy,” O’Shea said. “And then I kind of floated over to the center of the stage.”
She noted she didn’t think she would win the final round.
“Going into the final round, I told [my competitors] Tucker and Kevin that I thought I would get second place and I really believed that,” O’Shea said. “I didn’t anticipate winning whatsoever. That didn’t even cross my radar.”
O’Shea said she was not nervous going into the final round, even though she had been nervous before the first two games of the competition and during other competitions in which she had participated. She explained she felt “zen” prior to the game and thought that it didn’t matter if she won the round because she had already achieved what she wanted to do.
“My main goal going into the tournament was not to get embarrassingly eliminated after the first round,” she said. “After that didn’t happen to me, I just tried to do as well as I could.”
O’Shea is also a cartoonist for The Daily Princetonian.
Pam Mueller GS, who won Jeopardy! College Championships in 2000 while an undergraduate at Loyola University of Chicago, said she found it intimidating to compete against students from schools like Harvard, who she thought at the time might have had more knowledge than she did. She also noted that she felt similar to O’Shea going into the tournament.
“All I wanted to do was make it to the semifinals, but then I ended up winning and was kind of shocked by the whole thing,” Mueller said.
Mueller said watching the show brought back memories of being a competitor over a decade ago.
“[O’Shea] seemed surprised when she won the semifinals, which is sort of exactly how I felt,” Mueller said.
Mueller noted she didn’t know that another Princeton student would be on Jeopardy! until this January when she was filming Jeopardy! Battle of the Decades in Los Angeles. She added that although she doesn’t know O’Shea, she watched all episodes featuring her.
Kelly Rafey ’16, one of O’Shea’s fellow Mathey trivia participants, said she watched the final episode with O’Shea and a group of other trivia participants in Frist Campus Center.
“I wasn’t really surprised [that she won], but it was really, really exciting,” Rafey said. “Everyone was excited; we were watching it in Frist and there were a whole bunch of people there and as soon as she won everyone started clapping. “
Rafey said she has witnessed how proud the Princeton community is of O’Shea in how people walk up and congratulate her.
O’Shea explained she attributed her doubts about winning the final round to the fact that she was not a member of a Quiz Bowl team.
“I have plenty of friends who know way more trivia than I do, who regularly dazzle me with their knowledge at Mathey [College] Trivia Night,” she said. “It just seemed so unlikely.”
O’Shea said her parents did not come to California to see her final round, but added that despite not having anyone in the audience, the audience was cheering for her.
“As soon as I got out of the studio, I called my parents and my brother to tell them the news,” O’Shea said. “They were very happy for me.”
O’Shea said that despite remembering her final question very clearly, she and her competitors agreed it was hard to remember what happened during the rounds.
“Questions are coming back to me that I had no recollection of before watching the episode,” O’Shea noted.
O’Shea also explained it has also been very difficult to keep quiet about her Jeopardy! win since she filmed it about a month ago. Her friends said O’Shea was very tight-lipped about her win.
“I watched Tuesday’s episodes with her and she has a very good poker face,” Emma Boettcher ’14, who attends Mathey College Trivia Night with O’Shea, said. “It’s not surprising that she won, but she didn’t let on at all that she did.”
“It’s been terrible! Even though I don’t say anything, I’m constantly worried that if I smile too much, people will get the wrong idea, and they’ll start imagining that I’ve won, or that I’ll accidentally let something slip,” O’Shea said, in an interview a few hours before the show aired on Friday. “It’s the first real secret that I’ve actually had to keep, it’s been a challenge.”
O’Shea explained that, as winner of the competition, she will participate in the Tournament of Champions next year, and Boettcher said she is already looking forward to seeing O’Shea in that competition. Mueller said she, as a former winner, also competed in the Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions for the year she won.
“It’s sort of weird how Jeopardy has kept having all these tournaments since then and it’s never gone because there’s always something to do,” Mueller said.
Mueller said she has confidence in O’Shea’s ability to succeed in the upcoming tournament. She added that she thinks O’Shea should try to have an attitude where she aims to make it to the semifinals and could end up winning once again.
“[O’Shea] did really well. It was great to watch, and she’s really quick at wordplay stuff,” Mueller said. “I don’t think she should worry too much about Tournament of Champions.”
O’Shea also has some plans for her $100,000 prize.
“I know I want to buy a Roomba [vacuum cleaner] because my carpet is really dirty, but beyond that I have no plans,” O’Shea said. “I’ll probably donate some portion of it to charity, probably to Doctors Without Borders, and I’ll save a good portion of it in an IRA.”
O’Shea said the University played a role in her success in Jeopardy! College Championships.
“Just being at Princeton, I learn so much, not only from my classes but just through osmosis, through being surrounded by brilliant people,” O’Shea explained. “Being in a place where so many people have done incredible things gave me the incentive to try out for Jeopardy! in the first place. It made it seem possible that I could go on the show and maybe win.”