Indian American student wins a quarter-million-dollar prize in U.S, college quiz contest

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Jaskaran Singh, Jeopardy! National College Champion, Feb. 22, 2022. Photo: jeopardy.com videograb

Continuing a winning streak by Indian American students, Jaskaran Singh has won the premiere quiz tournament in the United States for students, the National College Championship Jeopardy! with a prize of $250,000. The 22-year-old red-turbaned Sikh studying at the University of Texas at Austin on Tuesday beat out 35 other students selected from about the 26,000 who competed for a chance to be on the tournament held over two weeks.

This time four of the students contesting against Singh were of Indian origin and one – Anna Muthalaly of Duke University – was of Sri Lankan heritage.

After winning the championship, Singh was modest about his success. “I just sort of just buzzed fast and know things, pretty much. I don’t think there’s much more”, he told an interviewer from the show.

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The quarter-million dollars win will pay for his college fees “and a lot more”, he said.

The college tournament is an offshoot of Jeopardy, the most popular daily quiz show, which uses the unusual format of the quizmaster or host stating an answer for which the contestant has to frame the right question.

The puzzle given by the host, TV actor Mayim Bialik, in the final round of the contest was, “An 1873 book title gave us this phrase for the period in the late 1800s of growth & prosperity & also greed & corruption”.

Singh gave the correct solution in the form of a question: “What is the gilded age”?

Nibir Sharma from the University of Minnesota won the 2019 tournament and was a semi-finalist in the Jeopardy Tournament of Champions going again to the big winners in the main Jeopardy programme next year.

Dhruv Gaur from Brown University bagged the championship in 2018 and there were no collegiate contests in the last two years because of the Covid pandemic. Before them, Vinita Kailasanath had won the championship in 2001.

Singh, who is in the final year studying finance and economics, said on the show that he had worked for a civil rights organisation in Washington after his first year of college.

He credited his parents for his victory, telling the Austin Statesman newspaper that they “are really amazing, They supported me throughout the whole thing”. He said that his mother had made him sign up for the Jeopardy Teen Tournament when he was just 13.

Although he didn’t make it to the teen competition, she kept encouraging him to try for the college championship, he said.

Congratulating Singh, University of Texas at Austin president Jay Hartzell said the university’s tower would be lit up in orange, the university’s colours, to honour the victory.

Avi Gupta won the last Jeopardy Teen Tournament with an $100,000 prize held in 2019 before the Covid pandemic suspended it. Four other teens of Indian origin had also won the championship in the 36 tournaments held so far.

Over the past 20 years, Indian-Americans have been dominating the National Spelling Bee contest for high-school students, even though they comprise only about one per cent of the US population. In the 2019 edition of the Bee, seven of the eight co-champions were Indian-Americans, bringing the total number of Indian-American champions since 1999 to 26.

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