RIVERVIEW — Cameron Kim, the 21-year-old son of Su Tae and Tracy Kim of Riverview, formerly of Valrico, represented Duke University in the Jeopardy! College Championship against 15 students representing their schools.
This double major in biomedical engineering and mathematics works on regenerative medicine in a Duke biomedical-engineering research lab and coaches the university’s Quidditch team. He is interviewing for doctoral programs, which he plans to attend after graduating this year.
“I’ve watched Jeopardy my entire life, ever since I saw the Kids Week tournament and could answer the questions,” said Kim.
His first-grade teacher at Limona Elementary School, Tina Gill-Jackson, remembers him as “a bright and enthusiastic student who was kind and well-liked by his peers. He always shared lots of ideas throughout his first-grade year and always looked forward to the future.”
The Durant High School graduate took online qualifying tests for Jeopardy every year since he was about 16, including the 50-question college test last March. In April, he received a request for a May interview in Nashville. There he took another 50-question test and participated in a mock game.
It was a six-month wait before contestants were notified. Kim kept his phone at his side throughout November.
“And then one fateful day when I thought my chances were up, I got a phone call from the producer saying that I was going to be on,” he said. “About 12,000 people took the online test, about 300 got interviews and then 15 of us were selected.”
When the producer’s call came, Kim was in his car in a parking lot. He was shaking.
“I couldn’t scream, because I would have blown the poor man’s eardrum out,” he said. “But once I hung up, I screamed and fervently called my mom to let her know and then put it on Facebook so all of my friends knew. It was a very exciting time.”
Jeopardy paid his way to Los Angeles.
“Being on the set of the show was absolutely incredible,” he said. “When we first walked on stage to rehearse and practice, having the buzzer in my hand, it was a surreal experience.”
While the show was being taped, Kim was very nervous in the opening sequence but slightly calmer for Double Jeopardy, he said.
“I remember being very excited for the math category ‘Solve for x’ but got tripped up on the last few with the mental math,” he said. “I would’ve liked a science category but didn’t get it. I was especially tripped up by the ‘Rhyme Time’ category and remember telling my friends that I dreaded that category above all.”
He said, “It is a whole different experience with the buzzer in your hand. You can know every answer, but if you can’t master the buzzer, then it’s very difficult to win. I was doing all right with the buzzer in the first round, but not so much in the second round.”
Kim did not win the championship, but for his participation in the quarterfinals, he received a $5,000 prize.
The experience was “an absolute blast,” he said.
He fulfilled his lifelong dream of being on the show and meeting host Alex Trebek, but said “the best part was all the friends I made.”
Kim and the other contestants, whom he called incredible, talented and gifted, keep in touch via text messages and social media. They sometimes run into each other at graduate school interviews.
It’s the contestants-turned-friends that “make the tournament as special as it is,” he said.
Barbara Routen is a freelance writer who may be contacted at Neighbors@tampabay.rr.com.