Sirad Hassan ’20 appeared on the Jeopardy! College Championship on Monday, April 6, competing against Emma Farrell, a senior at Carnegie Mellon University, and Marshall Comeaux, a sophomore at the University of Texas at Austin.
Hassan, a former contributor to The Daily Princetonian, faced tough competition from Farrell and Comeaux. She initially struggled to get traction, before gaining momentum too late in the Double Jeopardy round to overcome her opponents’ leads.
Despite not advancing to the semifinals, Hassan said she feels she walked away with something much greater: the chance to inspire people, no matter their identity, to pursue their dreams.
“As a child, whenever I would watch Jeopardy!, I often wouldn’t see that many people who looked like me,” she wrote in an email to The Daily Princetonian. “My intersecting identities of being black, Muslim, and a woman are very important to me and are incredibly visible from my [appearance].”
Among the categories in the first round of play was “TV of Today” — a topic that proved challenging for Hassan, as her competitors beat her to the buzzer on four out of the five clues.
“The categories that I know I dreaded from watching the show are pop culture (music, TV shows), celebrity trivia, and sports,” Hassan wrote.
Hassan had some difficulty in the first round, trailing Farrell and Comeaux at the start of the first commercial break. Still, by the show’s halfway mark, Hassan had given five correct responses and was tied with Comeaux at $1,000. Farrell, the leader, stood at a formidable $9,400.
During the half-round interviews, Hassan revealed that she is a Woodrow Wilson School concentrator on the pre-med track. She is pursuing certificates in African American Studies, Cognitive Science, and Global Health and Health Policy.
Hassan fought back during the second round, scoring six correct responses. She entered the Final Jeopardy! round with $2,600. At the time, Comeaux held $8,800 and Farrell $12,200.
Notably, in the Double Jeopardy! round, there were nine “Triple Stumpers,” for which none of the contestants were able to provide the correct answer, heavily limiting the second-round earnings of all three players.
The Final Jeopardy! category was “Wonders of the Modern World,” a geographic category that Hassan said she was initially excited to see.
“Going in, I was hoping that there would be an abundance of geography, history, astronomy, or Broadway music trivia,” she wrote.
Unfortunately, the clue — which noted that the modern wonder in question was nicknamed “The Big Ditch” and had celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2014 — proved unlucky for Hassan. She and Farrell both answered incorrectly, while competitor Comeaux gave the correct response — the Panama Canal — and qualified for the semifinals.
Eliminated from the tournament, Hassan and Farrell each walked away with $5,000.
A longtime fan of the show, Hassan said she feels grateful for the opportunity to have competed in an episode, given how difficult it was to be selected as a contestant.
“Since the process to get on the show was quite intense with all of the tests, interviews, and practice games that were a part of the auditions (only 15 people selected from over 18,000+ college students), I was just really happy to be there,” she said.
Hassan’s preparation for the competition was intense, involving countless hours of studying trivia facts in various subjects during the two weeks she had to prepare for the show.
“When I got the call that I was one of the finalists, I practically made everyone and anyone in my close circles send me questions and topics that they thought I should know more about and that they could quiz me on,” Hassan wrote in an email. “I borrowed books, played lots of Sporcle, and looked at many maps in the short two weeks that I had to prepare!”
On the filming day for her quarterfinal match, Hassan did not know which round she would be competing in, nor which of the other 14 participants in the two-week championship would be her competitors.
“We were all in a green room for several hours before the show, and we were told that we would be called up randomly for the five different quarterfinal matches. To my surprise, I was called up to be part of the first match of the quarterfinals!” she wrote.
She added that while their meeting was brief, Hassan was able to quickly bond with the other participants in the show’s college championship, and she still communicates with them after filming the tournament.
“I was really surprised by how amazing and warm everyone was, and I am grateful to have met them through this very unique opportunity,” she stated.
Even though she has watched Jeopardy! and seen Alex Trebek on screen for years, Hassan said it was still shocking to meet him in person.
“When he came up to interview me after our first break, I was stunned,” she said. “He’s a really nice guy and even better host. He keeps the game both light and fun.”
Hassan hopes that her appearance on Jeopardy! will inspire viewers all around the world.
“I want it to be inspiring for those younger than me to see that this is an opportunity that they can strive for unabashedly,” she said. “I stood on the stage of Jeopardy! proud to be a black Muslim woman, and I want others to be proud of their intersecting identities, too.”