Ella Feiner ’22 will compete on “Jeopardy! National College Championship,” beginning Feb. 8 as she faces off against Jasmine Manansala of Rice University and Stephen Privat of Louisiana State University.
The show will air at 8 p.m. on WPVI-TV ABC Mercer. Feiner is competing in the first of 12 quarterfinal games, among a pool of 36 contestants, each hailing from different colleges. If she wins on Tuesday, she will advance to the semifinal matches which will begin Thursday, Feb. 17.
Feiner’s path to the show is unlike many of her competitors. She didn’t do quiz bowl in high school, and she has not been an enthusiast of trivia for long, she told The Daily Princetonian. Instead, Feiner got to “Jeopardy!” because of her friends at the University.
“When I got to college, my freshman-year zee group was really close, and we would watch ‘Jeopardy!’ almost every day,” Feiner told the ‘Prince.’ “We were all kind of different from each other at first glance, but we were able to really come together over ‘Jeopardy!’”
The zee group kept watching “Jeopardy!” together, competing against each other, shouting out answers, and tallying up scores. They would watch in a lounge in the basement of 1937 Hall — “the one room in the building with air conditioning,” said Zachary Shevin ’22, a member of the zee group.
Shevin is a Managing Editor Emeritus at the ‘Prince.’
But Feiner was too fast for the rest of the group.
“I read pretty fast, and I would always read the clue and then yell out the answer,” Feiner said.
“By the time that Alex Trebek had read half of [the question], Ella had already read all of it,” said Pooja Parmar ’22, a member of the group and Feiner’s current roommate. “She reads three times faster than the rest of us, and she’d blurt out the answer. We were like, ‘this can’t happen anymore.’”
It’s a rule of “Jeopardy!” that contestants are ‘locked out’ — they can’t buzz in to answer the question — until the host has finished reading the answer.
“One of my friends got super annoyed with me,” Feiner said of Nelson Dimpter ’22, another member of her zee group. “He got so pissed that I would break this rule that he decided to invest in a buzzer set.”
Dimpter bought a buzzer set from an elementary school classroom off eBay that dated to the mid-2000s. A big game-show fan, Dimpter started hosting their own games of Jeopardy! in the commons of Wilcox Hall — watching old episodes and keeping score with their buzzers, in addition to watching the new episode every night.
They played so often that their RCA suggested they apply for funding from the school to become a real club.
“That was how the Princeton Jeopardy! Circuit was born,” Feiner said.
Given Feiner’s skill for the game, her friends often told her she ought to try out for the show. It wasn’t until the fall of 2020 that she took the online test “just for fun,” she said.
After several more rounds of preliminary tests, Feiner was forced to wait. It wasn’t until several months later in May 2021 when she heard back.
“I was with my best friend,” said Feiner, referring to Parmar, her roommate. “We were on this cross-country road trip, hiking the Grand Canyon. We had no cell service all day. When we finally got close enough to the rim to get cell service, I got this call from L.A. It was the call that I’d be on ‘Jeopardy!’”
“We’ve really been there every step of the way,” Parmar said.
Feiner is not the only member of the Circuit to make it onto the real show: Sirad Hassan ’20, who appeared on “Jeopardy!” in April 2020, also attended Princeton Jeopardy! Circuit meetings.
Feiner is a chemical and biological engineering concentrator with an interest in literature and pop culture, but she always struggles with the historical categories. She prepared by watching episodes from the archive and studying the category she knew she was worst at — European history.
“I didn’t really do too much practice with the buzzer,” Feiner said. “Once I got there, the buzzer turned out to be one of the hardest parts of the show.”
Feiner can’t say how she did on the show.
“Everyone and their mother is pestering me to know whether I won or not, and I have to tell them I can’t tell them. Probably fifty percent of my conversations in the last week have been ‘Did you win ‘Jeopardy!’?’”
Her friends from the Princeton Jeopardy! Circuit said they eagerly wait to find out and that they will get together to watch Feiner’s episode like they watched the show together years ago.
“We’ll all be watching it together, and it’ll be exciting,” Shevin said.
Gabriel Robare is a staff writer, as well as a Head Puzzles Editor, for the ‘Prince.’ He can be reached at email@example.com or on social @gabrielrobare.
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated that the episode will air on Feb. 8 at 8 p.m. In fact, it will air at 7 p.m. The ‘Prince’ regrets this error.