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Freshman competes on Jeopardy! show

Marcela Berrios | Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Friends and classmates of freshman Courtney Smotherman gathered in LaFortune Student Center Tuesday to watch her compete in the nationally known trivia game Jeopardy!

Smotherman racked up $10,400 throughout the program, answering questions about the objectives of the U.S. State Department in the United Nations, the Great Natchez Tornado of 1840 and the biography of novelist C.S. Lewis, among other topics.

She also knew “boombox” was slang for large musical boxes – and that earned her $600 in the opening round.

Smotherman entered the final Jeopardy! round in second place, but after she wagered $5,600 and incorrectly said the most populous island on the planet was Japan’s Hokkaido – not the Indonesian island of Java – she fell to third.

Her final earnings totaled $1,000 – the stipulated award given to the third place finisher – which she said she used to buy new books earlier this semester, since Tuesday’s Jeopardy! episode was taped this past January.

Smotherman said Jeopardy! producers contacted her in November after she performed well in an online exam conducted last March to screen potential contestants.

She auditioned in Chicago before receiving an invitation to compete in California.

Though the television network did not cover Smotherman’s airfare, it arranged a reduced hotel rate for her and her mother in Los Angeles, where they met Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek.

“He’s really funny,” Smotherman said. “He’s got a dry sense of humor, and you can tell he’s a dad because he talks a lot about his son and his daughter.”

During Trebek’s on-air interview segment with the contestants, he asked Smotherman about her involvement with her high school aerospace science club, where she helped build a rocket that flew 799 feet in 44.6 seconds.

Besides this experience and her involvement in Notre Dame’s Academic Competition Club, Smotherman prepared for Jeopardy! by reading trivia magazines.

“I’m a fan of Mental_Floss, the trivia magazine, so I read some back issues,” she said. “And of course I also watched the show every night leading up to my appearance.”

Her family traditionally serves dinner at 7:30 p.m. to watch the program, and in middle school, Smotherman said, she frequently delivered answers in the form of questions at her quiz bowl competitions.

With years of practice and anticipation under her belt, she ringed in an assortment of trivia categories Tuesday, including “At the movies,” “It’s all academic” and “Spanish places in the U.S.”

“It was a lot of fun for me,” Smotherman said. “It was a great experience being in L.A. and meeting Alex [Trebek] while everybody else was at school here.”