Harvard’s ‘Jeopardy!’ Contestant Chosen

Winner said her laid-back approach helped to set her apart from pool

Mary N. Naam ’05 will represent Harvard in “Jeopardy! College Championship” at Yale this week after passing through three rounds of testing and beating out over 1,000 undergraduates for the spot.

All eyes will be on Naam as she vies against 14 other college students in the ultimate trivia challenge in the nationally-broadcast episode to be aired in November.

The government concentrator from Leverett House said she felt her more laid-back approach to the game was the key to her success in the final mock competition.

“Everyone seemed to be so tense,” she said. “I was just having fun and trying not to take it too seriously.”

Jeopardy! Contestant Coordinator Maggie Speak said choosing among the pool of finalists was a difficult task.

“This was a terrific group, and Harvard should be proud of all the students who tried out,” she said. “[Naam] stood out because she was having such a great time.”

Her quest began Thursday afternoon in Loker Commons with a written test of ten questions. Along with 150 other students, Naam passed to a second, more rigorous round consisting of 50 questions.

Judges then whittled down the group to 30 finalists, who participated in a mock version of the quiz show Thursday evening.

The finalists played the game while cracking jokes and telling the judges about themselves, trying to display a certain star quality they hoped would ensure them the nomination.

Towards the end of the mock competition, Naam said one of the questions that stumped other contestants was a no-brainer for her: “This country has Alexandria as its second largest city.”

Naam, who has visited her family in Cairo, said she immediately knew the correct answer was: “What is Egypt?”

She said that many of the other contestants were first-years planning to concentrate in government, and after several had stated their intentions to spend any prize money they might win on their future political campaigns, she worried her thunder had been stolen.

Naam said she was also hampered by the flu during the audition, making her voice barely audible throughout the mock contest.

“[The judges] kept telling me to use my outside voice,” she said, still hoarse two days after the competition.

When she received a phone call at 8:30 a.m. Friday morning, she said she was stunned to learn of her nomination.

“It took me awhile to get used to the idea, but now I’m excited,” she said.

Born to Egyptian parents, Naam has traveled all over the world when not in her home state of Illinois.

At Harvard, she said she divides her time between her schoolwork and her passion for X-Box.

Naam, a dedicated “Friends” fan, said it was tough to miss the season premier of the show Thursday night to participate in the final mock competition.

Naam said she watches Jeopardy! less religiously. Instead, she said she picks up random knowledge by playing Trivial Pursuit with her blockmates in Leverett.

She said she would most like to see the categories Geography, Politics, and Entertainment on the Jeopardy! board.

Naam said she knows she will have to compete against other trivia aces, including Yale junior Robby R. Schrum ’05—and is less than happy that the game will be staged in New Haven, affording Schrum the home court advantage.

“It’s not going to be easy, but I’ll try not to let Harvard down,” she said.

The Jeopardy! organizers specifically sought out a Harvard contestant to pit against a Yalie in the spirit of rivalry.

Schrum, a classics major and an a cappella singer, said he is still in shock over his nomination.

Like Naam, judges selected him from a pool of over 1,000 undergraduates through two tests and a mock competition. In the end, he said his “stage presence” distinguished him from the other Yale finalists.

“I’m a bit nervous because I don’t really know what to expect,” Schrum said. “Although there’s definitely pressure in competing with Harvard, I’ll be calm and clear-headed.”

Undergraduate Council President Rohit Chopra ’04, who was responsible for bringing Jeopardy! to Harvard, said he has full confidence that Naam will defeat the Yalie.

The winner of the game will get at least $50,000 and a new Volvo.

According to a press release, “Jeopardy! College Championship” will air November 10 to 21 in Hartford and New Haven on WTNH at 7 p.m.