(Editor’s Note: This article begins an occasional look into examples of county residents making interesting (and fun!) headlines.)
The category: Fairfax County residents on Jeopardy.
The answer: This Virginia Commonwealth University student who grew up in Herndon won more than $30,000 over three days on one of America’s most popular game shows.
The question: Who is Siddharth Hariharan?
As host Alex Trebek would say, that is correct. Hariharan, a 22-year-old medical student at VCU, appeared on Jeopardy last month, winning his first two games before finishing in second place on day three.
“The whole experience was a lot of fun and so unbelievable,” says Hariharan, who moved to Herndon in 2004 and attended Rachel Carson Middle School and Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.
During his time at TJ, Hariharan competed in academic Quiz Bowl competitions for one of the top teams in the state, and he took that knowledge with him to the University of Virginia, where he graduated in 2015. He also spent one year at the University of Wisconsin before starting at VCU this year.
Hariharan’s love for Jeopardy started at a young age when he would watch the show on a regular basis with his parents, who he says have now become “second hand celebrities” in Herndon thanks to their son’s success.
“I never figured I’d actually be on the show,” says Hariharan, “but once I started going through the application process it became more apparent that it might be possible.”
That process starts with completing an online test available once per year for anyone. Hariharan took the test a few times before he was invited to an onsite audition in Philadelphia. If successful at those in-person auditions, you are placed in a contestant pool and eligible to be called to compete in the next 18 months.
Hariharan got the call in early June and filmed in late July in Los Angeles. “My weak points were history and geography,” he says. “I tried to shore those up as much as possible. I spent a lot of time staring at Google maps,” he notes while laughing.
The taping itself was a whirlwind that flew by, notes Hariharan. There are five episodes taped each day on a Tuesday and Wednesday, and Hariharan’s first show was the fourth taping on a Tuesday afternoon.
“It was really intimidating watching the game before mine because I saw who won and how smart they were,” he says. “But it goes by so quickly and I didn’t have time to be nervous. I didn’t have many expectations going in, but I really wanted to win at least one game and whatever happened after that was a bonus.”
The most “surreal” part though, he points out, was watching it in a theatre-sized classroom at VCU with classmates and friends when the shows aired in September. “I barely remembered any of the details from my time in California so it was fun to watch both the trivia aspect and the interactions with Alex Trebek,” he says as he describes the show’s host as very sarcastic with a dry sense of humor.
Beyond the obvious trivia aspects of the show, Hariharan says other aspiring Jeopardy contestants should focus on two areas that often get overlooked – wagering and the buzzer. “Anybody that’s on Jeopardy has a lot of knowledge and will know most of the questions, but learning when to buzz in and how to bet are big keys,” he says. “Jeopardy is a game of strategy, not just trivia.”
In the first game, Hariharan earned $21,601 and more than doubled both of his opponent’s totals after successfully identifying limbo as the first circle in Dante’s Inferno in Final Jeopardy. In the second game, he was in third place heading into Final Jeopardy, but all three contestants missed the question and Hariharan’s wagering strategy won him another $6,534. In the final game, he correctly named Jack Kerouac as the Final Jeopardy answer and finished in second place, earning another $2,000.
If you aren’t sure if you should try out or not, keep this piece of advice from Hariharan in mind – “You never know what you know. People can definitely surprise themselves.”