UW-Madison student competes in 'Jeopardy!' College Championship

May 6, 2013

by Susannah Brooks

When the "Jeopardy!" College Championship was filmed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in April 2008, Julia Sprangers sat in the Kohl Center audience to watch then-senior Suchita Shah compete.

Photo: Alex Trebek and Julia Sprangers

’Jeopardy!’ host Alex Trebek and UW-Madison student contestant Julia Sprangers.

Photo: Jeopardy Productions, Inc.

Now Sprangers, a junior studying economics and Spanish, has her own chance to make a mark — and she traveled around the world to make it happen. The two-week tournament, syndicated nationally, airs from Monday, May 6 through Friday, May 17.

Sprangers tried out for the show in April of 2012, but didn't find out she'd been chosen until nearly a year later. By that point, she'd relocated to Europe for a study-abroad program.

"I was in London at the time, with very limited Internet access, and didn't have an easy way to let my parents know that I had made it," says Sprangers. "It was definitely a dream come true, though."

Studying in a full-immersion Spanish-language program, Sprangers worried that it might take her time to readjust to speaking in English. Thankfully, she says she didn't end up giving any responses in Spanish. But the demands of studying abroad did take a toll as she prepared.

"A lot of current events and popular culture do typically show up in the tournaments," says Sprangers. "I'd been so isolated from the U.S., so at first I just spent a while getting caught up in what had been going on in the news over the past couple of months. My family would also quiz me while I talked to them on Skype, which was very helpful."

Aside from the legendarily difficult audition process, her biggest challenge may have been traveling from Granada, Spain to Los Angeles to film the show: a series of grueling flights, with a nine-hour time difference.

Still, she says, the adrenaline kicked in to keep her going throughout filming. The energy of the crew, and the excitement of bonding with fellow contestants, still resonates a month later.

"I anticipated that people would be nervous and therefore a little shy and closed off, or maybe a little competitive, but that's not what I experienced at all," says Sprangers. "In our downtime, it was really fun talking to everyone and hearing about their lives at their universities. I've lived in Wisconsin my whole life, so it was cool to hear what it's like to live and go to school in other places."

Despite her early-morning flight back to Spain, Sprangers made some great connections with her fellow contestants. By the time she can divulge her results, she'll be sharing the experience with friends in Spain, family in Oshkosh and the entire UW-Madison community.

During the "Jeopardy!" College Championship's first week, 15 contestants, each from a different college or university, will appear during one of the five episodes. The winners of each show, along with the next four highest money earners, will move on. The second week consists of three semifinals and a two-game final match to determine the champion. The winner receives a guaranteed minimum of $100,000, with first and second runners-up receiving $50,000 and $25,000, respectively. Semifinalists receive $10,000; all others receive $5,000.

Past UW-Madison competitors include semifinalists Suchita Shah in 2008, Dave Sabath in 2000 and Dave Larson in 1993, as well as quarterfinalist Danny Vopava in 2010.

"Jeopardy!" can be seen in the Madison area Monday-Friday at 4:30 p.m. on NBC 15. The exact date of Sprangers' appearance has not been announced.