Who is Clarissa Santori?
That’s the million-dollar question. Or, in this case, perhaps the $100,000 answer. Santori, S’17, will represent Northeastern in this year’s Jeopardy! College Championship.
“To the extent that you can have a life dream at the age of 20, this has definitely been mine,” Santori said of being on the game show. “It was a dream come true.”
The college tournament, which started Monday and runs through Friday, Feb. 24, pits 15 college students from across the country against each other in the classic answer-and-question trivia game for a chance to win the $100,000 grand prize.
Santori’s show airs Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. EST on CBS. She’s the second Northeastern student to represent the Red and Black on that familiar stage. Kate Laubscher, SSH’18, competed in last year’s College Championship.
A lifetime Jeopardy! viewer, Santori said she was watching the show one evening in September when an ad came on announcing that the online test—a prerequisite for all Jeopardy! contestants—for the college tournament was open.
“I figured this was my last chance to be in the College Championship, so I went online and took the test,” said Santori, who will graduate in May with a degree in chemistry. The online test doesn’t track answers or report back scores, so Santori wasn’t sure if she’d made the cut.
As it turned out, she had.
She received an email inviting her to the semifinal round in New York in early October. There, she took a written test, competed in a mock game, and interviewed with showrunners. Again, though, she left without knowing what might come next.
On Dec. 2, while she was in a lab class, Santori got a call from an unfamiliar number from California.
“I had to take it,” she said.
It was a Jeopardy! producer, informing her that she’d made it through to the on-air tournament, which filmed over the course of two days in early January.
“The whole time I was on the phone, I was just thinking, ‘I can’t believe this is happening,’” Santori said. “It was one of those things where you want to sound calm and collected on the phone, but I was also definitely dancing in the hallway.
In the month between that phone call and the start of filming, Santori said she prepared by continuing to watch Jeopardy! whenever it was on. She tracked categories hoping to get a sense of what sorts of questions she might expect.
“Obviously I’m always hoping for a chemistry category,” she said, “even when I’m just watching at home.”
Santori is no stranger to the trivia circuit. She competed on her Ellicott City, Maryland high school’s quiz bowl team, and even made an appearance on her hometown’s own trivia game show It’s Academic.
She also had the support of a familiar face on the Jeopardy! set in Los Angeles. Gary Tse, also a native of Ellicott City and an It’s Academic alumnus, made this year’s Jeopardy! college tournament as a representative for the U.S. Naval Academy.
Santori was prohibited from revealing how far she made it in this year’s tournament, but promised viewers “some exciting moments.”
Having been focused on answering as many questions as she could during her time on the show, Santori said she was looking forward to watching too.
“I think there may be some surprises for me too,” she said, laughing. “When you’re in the zone like that, it’s hard to remember a lot of the exact details.”
Win or lose, though, Santori said her experience was one for the books.
“It was just so much fun,” she said. “Meeting Alex Trebek, being on that set, hanging out with the rest of the contestants who were all so friendly—my biggest regret now is that I can’t go back and do it again.”