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‘It Was Surreal’: College Student from West Hartford Competes in Jeopardy National College Championship

Joey Kornman of West Hartford on the set of Jeopardy. Courtesy photo

Joey Kornman, a graduate of West Hartford’s Hall High School and currently a junior at Brandeis University, was chosen to participate in Jeopardy’s National College Championship.

Jeopardy College Championship Quarterfinal Game 4 contestants include Joey Kornman of West Hartford (bottom right). Courtesy photo

By Ronni Newton

It won’t be easy for Joey Kornman to watch the initial airing of the episode of Jeopardy that shows his participation in the National College Championship, but it has nothing to do with how he did on the quiz show.

Kornman, a junior at Brandeis University majoring in classical studies and economics, is currently spending a semester abroad in Athens, Greece. When the episode airs on Wednesday, Feb. 9, beginning at 8 p.m., it will be already be 3 a.m. Thursday. But back in the U.S., his family and friends will be glued to the TV.

“I think I have the fun fact for the rest of my life,” Kornman said about having the opportunity to be on Jeopardy, although he’s a little worried that he has peaked at age 20.

“The whole experience was just so surreal,” he said. After reading the book Jeopardy record-winner Ken Jennings wrote about the world of trivia, he’s still wrapping his mind around the fact that he has reached the pinnacle of competition.

“It’s in the public eye, it’s the most watched,” he said of Jeopardy.

In an interview this week from Athens, Kornman, who said he loves learning random things, shared how it came to be that he was one of 36 students from all over the country chosen to participate in the Jeopardy National College Championship.

Joey Kornman speaks about his experience being chosen for the Jeopardy National College Championship during a Zoom interview. Screenshot

“There’s a test you can take,” Kornman said about the first step in being chosen for the Jeopardy College Championship. “A lot of people take it to see how they do,” and he said a friend told him about it. It’s open only to college students, and he took the test last winter, along with about 26,000 other students.

He was sent a follow up test, and then there were some interviews. “Eight or nine months passed. I had totally forgotten about it,” he said, until he received a text in late September.

He really doesn’t know what about his background led to his being chosen. “I don’t know what was so alluring about my application, but I feel very lucky,” he said.

“I wouldn’t say I learn for the sake of competing,” he said, but he really enjoys knowing a bit about a lot of things, and he retains information well. He’s also calm under pressure.

“I’m not learning to show off. If you know a little bit about a lot you can start conversations with people,” Kornman said.   It’s a good way to make connections.

“You know what you know, and you can’t be too nervous about it,” Kornman said about competing. He said he did cram for one category – novels and authors – and knows sports and pop culture aren’t his strengths. “I am a geography-history kind of guy.”

Joey Kornman of West Hartford on the set of Jeopardy. Courtesy photo

Kornman isn’t a newbie to quiz shows. When he was at Hall, he was part of the team that competed in “As Schools Match Wits” on WGBY. While it was on a much smaller scale, that experience, he said, helped him be more comfortable in the environment.

He’s also a member of the Brandeis Quiz Bowl team and loves to attend trivia nights when he can.

The youngest of three, his family has always played knowledge-based games. “Our family is heavily into trivia, heavily into board games like Scrabble,” said Sharone Kornman, Joey’s mom. “His common app essay was about how he loves trivia and minutiae. No one who knows him is surprised he’s on Jeopardy,” she said.

Kornman laughed when reminded about the common app. He said he wrote about how he likes learning for the sake of learning.

Once he passed background checks, and made reservations to fly to California, the reality sunk in that he was one of just 36 who had been chosen for Jeopardy’s National College Championship.

“When I found out I was on, it was surreal,” Kornman said. “They flew me out to Culver City, California. We were on the Sony lot.” It was his first time ever in California.

The show was taped right before Thanksgiving. All 36 students stayed together at the same hotel for the entire time, and spent 12 or 13 hours a day at the set. There was plenty of COVID testing.

Joey Kornman of West Hartford (right) with host Mayim Bialek on the set of Jeopardy. Courtesy photo

He got to spend time talking with Jeopardy host Mayim Bialik, and met Johnny Gilbert, the 93-year-old “voice of Jeopardy.” The stage, he said, is like a museum.

They were treated like movie stars. Kornman said it was his first time in a makeup chair, and he was surprised at how much makeup was needed to make his fair complexion TV-ready. The contestants had their hair professionally styled as well, and while they were in the studio but not actively competing, they waited in the “Wheel of Fortune” room.

The contestants, who are all currently in college, were from a variety of states throughout the country. Kornman was the only contestant from West Hartford, but there was a Dartmouth student who was from Pomfret Center, Connecticut, and a student who was from Florida but attends Yale.

Until the episode airs, he’s not able to share anything about how he performed. Getting to the show meant he was automatically a quarterfinalist, however, and along with having his flight and other expenses paid, he did earn $10,000 for that distinction. He used some of that for a new computer, and also bought his girlfriend some jewelry. He’s hoping to spend some doing a bit of traveling while he is abroad, depending on COVID restrictions.

Other than those involved with the show itself, the only one who knows how he did is his mother – who if not for COVID-19 would have been permitted to be in the studio at the taping.

“I’m glad to represent West Hartford, hopefully favorably,” he said.

“We’re very excited,” said Sharone Kornman. “And it’s fun that they mentioned West Hartford. We need something like this right now.”

Kornman gave zero hints about how he did in the game, and about whether or not he progressed to the semifinals or finals, but he did say he won’t be able to be on the regular Jeopardy show, unless it’s a special tournament with former contestants.

Kornman’s game is the second of two in the episode that airs on Wednesday, Feb. 9, at 8 p.m. EST on ABC, locally on WTNH. It will also be available the following day on Hulu, which is when Kornman hopes to gather in the cafeteria at his dorm in Athens to watch with friends.

More information, including a list of all participants, can be found here.

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