A student originally from Garden City, New York...

Jean Cui

Hi New York City, I'm Jean Cui from Garden City. Watch me take home the green, on Jeopardy!

Season 25 2-time champion: $14,200 + $2,000.

Last name pronounced like "TSWAY".

Jeopardy! Message Board user name: jcui

Jean Cui - a student
Garden City, New Jersey
May 20, 2009

Before the Taping

I have loved Jeopardy! and quiz bowl style games for a long time. I don’t even remember at what exact age I started watching Jeopardy! I first played quiz bowl at John Hopkins’s Center for Talented Youth (CTY) summer camp at age thirteen. In high school, I competed on my school’s interscholastic team all four years. I made varsity as a sophomore and was the youngest person on the varsity team that year. In my junior and senior years, I was Captain of the varsity team. In my senior year, my team won the Regional Quiz Bowl Long Island tournament and competed at the National Academic Championships. When I got to college, I joined my school’s quiz bowl team and won awards at intercollegiate tournaments. Naturally, when I found out that Jeopardy! was holding contestant searches through its online tests, I was highly interested.

During the fall of my sophomore year of college, I took the online test for the college version of Jeopardy! Later that semester, I got an e-mail from Jeopardy! telling me that I had passed the test and inviting me to an in-person audition! This was very exciting. I told my advisor about Jeopardy! and learned that he had been on the show. He informed me that at the in-person audition, I would be asked to play a mock game and would be asked questions in an interview. I think he also recommended that I invest in the cellphone version of the game.

In February of 2007, I went to the Waldorf Astoria in New York City for my College Jeopardy! audition. Though I didn’t make that season’s college show, I didn’t give up.

At one point, Jeopardy! Contestant Producer Maggie Speak had suggested that college students also take the adult online test. This is what I did in January 2008. A few months later, I received an invitation to the May adult in-person audition in Boston. At the audition, once again, I took a 50-question written test, played a mock game, and did the personality interview.

Months passed, but I didn’t hear anything. Then, on January 23, 2009, I got a phone call while I was traveling home to New York for Chinese New Year. When I realized that it was Maggie calling from Jeopardy!, I was ecstatic! This was such a spectacular Chinese New Year’s present. I couldn’t scream or jump up or down, though, without affecting the other passengers.

Soon, I received a package in the mail with legal documents to sign and fax back. Among other things, the paperwork asked if I knew anyone who had been on the show. At that point, the only other people I had personally met who had been on Jeopardy! were my advisor and Anjali Tripathi, a fellow senior whom I knew from a freshman program. In addition, I was asked to answer some questions about interesting things in my life and think of five fascinating anecdotes for Alex Trebek’s interview segment of the show.

I told few people at college about Jeopardy! before my February 18 tape date. I made sure that my advisor was the first faculty member at my school whom I told. Furthermore, I told Anjali and the faculty teaching the classes that I was missing that week. Everyone was very nice and encouraging. My advisor and Anjali both told me to have fun. My computer science professor for 6.004 e-mailed me jokingly hoping that the categories would include “Digital Abstraction,” “Boolean Logic,” and “CMOS Logic,” which were things that we were studying in class.


I actually did not do as much preparation as I would have done in hindsight. Second semester started about a week and a half after I found out about my taping date, and I was busy with schoolwork, including my senior history thesis. I looked over some past questions, including at least part of my advisor’s and Anjali’s games, on J-Archive.com, which is a great database with questions and answers from many past Jeopardy! games. I watched Jeopardy! on television. I also watched a little Jeopardy! on YouTube and played Jeopardy! on my cellphone. One limitation to the cellphone version of Jeopardy! is its multiple choice format. In real Jeopardy!, contestants have to think of the response themselves and do not have a chance to pick an answer from a list of choices. Between my second and third games, I read over a little poetry and art. It turned out that this preparation was not very helpful, since these categories did not appear much in my third game.

First Impressions

The morning of my taping, I took the shuttle to Sony Pictures Studio with a number of other contestants. I met Liz Murphy, the 2-time returning champion, who had won more than $40,000 the day before. A very nice person, Liz was a foreign service officer who had worked in Mexico and Azerbaijan.

Some of the other contestants also had interesting backgrounds. Toni was a flight attendant originally from Texas, Megan was a health scientist, Andrew was an English teacher, and Larry was an assistant principal who used to be an English teacher. All the contestants were very nice and friendly.

When we arrived at the studio, the Jeopardy! staff warmly welcomed us and told us the details about what we would be doing that day. I found Maggie, Robert, Glenn, and Corina to be so kind and helpful.

While we were in the Green Room, we also went over our Hometown Howdies and our anecdotes for our interviews with Alex and got our make-up done. I rarely wear make-up in real life, but the make-up artists were great and did an awesome job. Then, it was on to the rehearsal game.

For rehearsal, all the contestants went into the actual studio and practiced on the Jeopardy! set. We familiarized ourselves with the light pens and the buzzers. On the left and right sides of the Jeopardy! board, there are lights that are turned on after Alex finishes reading the question. We practiced timing our buzzers to the lights. After this round, we all took our turns playing with Jeopardy! questions. I was impressed by Megan. Later in the day, though she eventually lost to Liz, she did extremely well and was leading going into Final Jeopardy!

After rehearsal, Robert randomly selected two names at a time to play against the returning champion. I watched the first three games that day and saw Liz win them all. After lunch, we played another round of rehearsal. Then, my name was called. I was going to play Jeopardy! on national TV!

Game 1

I played against Liz and Larry in my first game. Though both were very good competitors, I still had fun playing against them. I also enjoyed talking to Alex in my interview, which was about my teaching Beginner Latin at Splash!. Splash! is an annual program sponsored by my college’s Educational Studies Program (ESP), and I have taught for it since my sophomore year. Despite its status as a “dead language,” Latin is actually a quite popular class at Splash! This level of interest was initially unexpected by Splash’s organizers, who once assigned me a small classroom for my Beginner Latin I class. Eventually, they had to reassign me to a medium-sized lecture hall in order to accommodate the number of students who registered for my class. Last year, Beginner Latin I was also popular; by the class date, students had signed up for all 78 spaces.

Going into Final Jeopardy!, I had around $14,000 and a $300 lead over Larry. I bet enough to be in first place if both Larry and I got the answer right and if Larry wagered everything. The Final Jeopardy! question was tough. When our answers were revealed, nobody got the correct answer, which was Monaco. I don’t remember what Liz put, but Larry and I both had Macedonia. Liz ended up with $7, Larry with a little less than that, and I with $599.

How I now wish that I had studied Greek! What’s ironic is that I love Ancient Greece, which I mentioned in my interview with Alex, and I am interested in Greek. I never had a chance to formally learn this language, however. Neither my high school nor my college offers Greek, and pretty much the only Greek I know are a number of letters of the Greek alphabet and some vocabulary roots that originate from Greek.

Still, I was happy that I won, especially since I beat a five-time champion. I still think that Liz was absolutely amazing; it’s very hard to win five games. I am looking forward to seeing Liz in the Tournament of Champions.

Game 2

In my second game, I played against Toni and Andrew. Both were very good, but I never gave up. For example, even when time was running short in Double Jeopardy!, I kept moving and got the last question right just as time ran out. Still, I was trailing going into Final Jeopardy!, which was again tough. I got thymus, which was the correct answer. It turned out that no one else got thymus, and I won another game!


After game 2, I flew back to school and resumed classes. I told some of my friends about my being on Jeopardy! and encouraged them to watch me on the show. Because I had signed a non-disclosure agreement, I didn’t tell them how I did or the fact that I would be returning to Los Angeles. The following Monday, I flew back to Los Angeles to tape my third game Tuesday. I wonder what were the thoughts of the several students who saw me leaving my dorm with a suitcase on a Monday afternoon!

Game 3

In the first game of that Tuesday, I played against Susan and Elliot. Coincidentally, there was a question on Harry Potter in Regular Jeopardy!, and Alex asked me about Harry Potter in my interview! I didn’t get to say everything in the short period of time, but reading Harry Potter going from bookstore to bookstore was not such a great idea even though I eventually got the book read. [Spoiler alert for people who haven’t read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.] Though I covered much of the book the first day I read it, I couldn’t finish and had to go revisit a bookstore another day. Before I got a chance to do so, my mom read to me a Chinese newspaper article stating who had died. I was disappointed, both because the ending was spoiled and because I was very upset that Dumbledore died. Still, I went to a bookstore and continued reading. Ironically, my attempt to get the book by ordering it in America led to a spoiled ending.

Susan was really good, and it was a tight game as we went into Final Jeopardy! Susan had $14,400 while I had $13,600. I bet $7,199 since it was the maximum amount that I could bet and stay ahead of Elliot even if Elliot got the Final Jeopardy! question right and I got it wrong. This amount would also have allowed me to win if Susan and I had both gotten the Final Jeopardy! question wrong. Unfortunately for me, Susan got it right, and I came in second.


Obviously, I was very disappointed that I lost. Still, I found Jeopardy! to be a very cool experience. I played my favorite game against really bright people, and I will always treasure this challenging yet wonderful opportunity.

I plan to use part of my winnings to travel to China to visit my grandparents. I also hope to donate to charity, especially by giving a scholarship to a student from my hometown to study math at CTY. I had a wonderful experience at CTY when I was thirteen, and the math I learned there helped me advance past the standard middle school honors math curriculum, which is in reality behind the curriculum in countries such as China. The rest of my winnings I will save for the future, including to help pay for graduate school.


I am so grateful to the Contestant Search Team, Maggie Speak, Glenn Kagan, Robert James, and Corina Nusu, for selecting me to be on Jeopardy! and for their kindness and help during the whole process. In addition, I am so happy to have finally met Alex Trebek. He is extremely friendly and funny. I would also like to give a great deal of thanks to John Lauderdale, the producers, and everyone else at Jeopardy! Everyone ranging from the make-up artists to the cameramen to the sound technicians was awesome. In addition, thank you, Johnny Gilbert, for being one of the rare people who gets my last name right! Thank you, everyone, from the bottom of my heart!

In addition, I would like to give much thanks to my family and friends for supporting and encouraging me, even when I didn’t think my chances of making the show were high, and to Anjali, for answering my questions about Jeopardy!.

Also, I wish the very best to all the contestants whom I met. I found my fellow contestants to be a very amicable group, and I have been trying to keep in touch with as many people as I can.

Lastly, but certainly not least, I would like to give heartfelt thanks to my advisor Professor Capozzola for his advice about Jeopardy!, and to him, Professor Mahajan, Professor Ward, and my TA Alex Valys for all their understanding, encouragement, and support during my Jeopardy! taping process. I really, really appreciate everything.

Jean appeared in the following 3 archived games:
#5696, aired 2009-05-18 Jean Cui vs. Elliott Rountree vs. Susan Hankins
#5685, aired 2009-05-01 Jean Cui vs. Toni Vitanza vs. Andrew Swan
#5684, aired 2009-04-30 Liz Murphy vs. Larry Sullivan vs. Jean Cui Liz Murphy game 6.

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