Anish Maddipoti ’20 Competes in ‘Jeopardy! Teen Tournament’


Anish Maddipoti ’20 poses alongside host Alex Trebek for a photo. Photo courtesy of Jeopardy!.

Buzzer in hand, his eyes darted across the screen, searching for his next move, planning his strategy. No matter what happened in the end, he wanted to come out of there standing tall with pride, confident that he had given it his all.

For years, Anish Maddipoti ‘20 had a dream to appear on the game show Jeopardy! Teen Tournament. This year that dream finally became a reality for him, as Maddipoti was one of 15 out of around 15,000 students selected from across the country to compete on the national program over the summer, with the episode he appeared in airing on Nov. 7.

“When I was six, my mom got me a Jeopardy! kind of toy,” Maddipoti said. “Basically what you do is it gives you some questions, but they’re preset, so I still remember the answers to all of them. So I just played that, and I didn’t know any of the answers to them because I was six, but that piqued my interest in watching Jeopardy!.”

Growing from that small seed planted in his mind, Maddipoti watched the trivia show for years, understanding more and more as he got older.

“My mom watched it every day so I just watched it with her,” Maddipoti said. “After I reached sixth grade was when I started to know some of the answers, and I thought, hey I could be on this show. Then it became a life goal of mine, to be on Jeopardy! before I died.”

But achieving that goal would not be an easy task. Maddipoti signed up for updates, then had to take an online test. After passing that test, he flew out to New Orleans, where he took another test. Then once he made it to the audition round, he played a mock game with other auditionees and participated in a personality interview. After he progressed through all these stages and was guaranteed a spot on the show, Maddipoti then had to focus on how he was going to prepare.

“You can’t really study for Jeopardy!, but it’s always good to brush up on stuff, because you might forget,” Maddipoti said. “I’m not a Christian, but I wanted to be familiar with biblical stories. So instead of reading the actual Bible and getting lost in all the words, I decided to read a cartoon version of the Bible so I could understand the stories. I also went over all the synopses of the Shakespeare plays because that could show up.”

After being flown out to Hollywood with his family, Maddipoti was finally set to compete in the Jeopardy! Teen Tournament. This was the first time Maddipoti would appear on national television, which put him on edge.

“When I first walked in I was so nervous, I was shaking,” Maddipoti said. “But the producer was like, ‘Don’t worry, it’s fine.’ The few minutes before I had met everyone, and I was chill with them. It didn’t feel like a competition at all, it felt like I was playing with friends. So that was the good part, and it helped keep me comfortable.”

While Maddipoti was on the show he also got the chance to meet the host, Alex Trebek. Trebek made also made a point of making the teens feel more at ease, and helped calm their nervousness.

“The first time I saw Alex Trebek was on the day I came, but he came out wearing a jean jacket and jeans,” Maddipoti said. “So when I saw him I was like, ‘What in the world?’ This guy is seen on TV, and he’s wearing a jean jacket and talking to me, so I was comfortable with him. It didn’t feel like I was talking to a celebrity; he talked like a normal person, which was really chill.”

After getting acquainted with the show’s staff, host, and his fellow competitors, the competition began with the competitors’ families watching in the audience. The teens were given a break during commercial pauses.

“It’s a lot darker than it looks on TV, like it’s really dark but there’s a bunch of bright lights on you,” Maddipoti said. “So the bright lights blinded me for a bit, I distinctly remember that. During every commercial break, the production crew gave you tips on how to play, and they’d give you water and stuff.”

Maddipoti’s score rose at a relatively constant rate throughout the first round. During the second round, however, Maddipoti was given a Double Jeopardy, which he did not answer correctly, cutting his money from $6,600 to $3,600. By the Final Jeopardy, where contestants gamble how much money they want based on a clue about what the subject of the question will be about, Maddipoti had $6,400. However, the subject of the Final Jeopardy was in an area Maddipoti was unfamiliar with, and he failed to answer.

“When I saw the category, Broadway Musicals, I thought ‘Oh God this is literally the worst possible category for me,’” Maddipoti said. “Emma and Maya [my competitors] I knew were big playwright freaks because they were talking about ‘Hamilton’ and stuff. But at the same time, I thought there was the small chance that I knew the answer, and I could get it right. But when I saw the clue, I literally had no idea what the answer was, so I was just sitting there. I was just staring up and trying to think of it. When it was about to end, I was going to write something but I couldn’t finish. I think Alex knew I had a hard time with that question, so he made a remark that he didn’t think it was a good category for me.”

Maddipoti ultimately ended with $3,600, which was lower than his fellow contestants, resulting in him not advancing to the next round.

“Afterwards I was really bummed out, like really, really sad,” Maddipoti said. “My stomach started to hurt because of the disappointment of blowing the chance of a lifetime. That really hurt.”

Maddipoti still walked out with his earnings from earlier questions in addition to a sum for appearing on the show. He plans to put this money in his college savings account. Money wasn’t his only reward though, he can now say he’s accomplished a huge goal of his and made several friends along the way.

“Honestly I had so much fun. All of the contestants who were on this teen tournament are on this group chat, and we talk with each other every day,” Maddipoti said. “We all just support each other, and we talk about our day-to-day life and stuff. We’re just a bunch of friends, and I had no hard feelings about losing because Maya’s such a nice person, and Emma’s the most innocent person you’ll ever meet.”

Not only did Maddipoti meet new friends, but he also discovered just how encouraging his family could be.

“My parents are really supportive,” Maddipoti said. “I didn’t know they could support me like that. It was really cool because my dad had never watched Jeopardy! before, my mom was the only one who watched it. But he started researching it and giving me tips, so that was kind of cool. Before they were all like ‘If you win, we’re happy, if you lose, we’re happy. Either way, you did something really special, and we’re really proud of you for that.’ That felt good knowing that I had that support from them.”

Even though he lost, Maddipoti doesn’t regret going on the show because he became friends with his fellow contestants, was able to fulfill his dream, and learned a bit about himself along the way.

“I was very anxious at the beginning, and afterward I felt a bit disappointed,” Maddipoti said. “But overall, I was really pleased with my performance, and I learned that if you work for your goals you can achieve them.”