WASHINGTON — Seventeen-year-old Antonio Karides spent his January like most high school juniors: visiting college campuses to chart his future.
But unlike those other kids, Karides got a special call from his father, saying the Severna Park High standout had been chosen to compete in the “Jeopardy!” Teen Tournament in Washington, D.C.
“I was freaking out in my hotel room,” said Karides, who was visiting Duke University, shrugging off the school’s former rivalry with the Maryland Terrapins by saying, “It’s a good school.”
This week, Karides is one of 15 contestants aged 14-17 competing before a live studio audience at D.A.R. Constitution Hall with ten tapings Tuesday and Wednesday to air later this fall.
“D.A.R. Constitution Hall is a special place. It is right in the heart of our nation’s capital, and the audiences who come out to enjoy our tapings are loyal fans, they’re enthusiastic, they’re intelligent and they’re very friendly toward me,” host Alex Trebek tells WTOP.
Trebek’s D.C. praise came during a “Jeopardy”-style “Answer & Question” session with WTOP:
A: This Washington football team is your favorite team.
Q: Who are the Washington Redskins? They’ve been my favorite team for many, many years. This goes back to the (George) Allen days, the Sonny Jurgensen days, the Sam Huff days, it goes back to the Vince Lombardi days.
A: This 1941 Best Picture winner that dethroned “Citizen Kane” is your favorite movie.
Q: What is “How Green Was My Valley?” It’s a great family story. It has a lot of emotion to it. It’s the story of a father’s relationship with his son, and that is always dear to me. It’s very touching.
A: This is the biggest reason you like doing the Teen Tournament.
Q: Because I’m looking at the future of our country, the future leaders of our country, and every time I do the Teen Tournament I come away with the same feeling: We’re in good shape.
It’s been a tough road for these teen contestants, who have endured an online test, in-person interview, 50-question written exam and a screen test of buzzing in and answering questions.
Now, they’ll compete for a $100,000 grand prize, $25,000 second prize and $15,000 third prize.
Despite the potential to win serious cash, Karides is keeping it quiet around his school hallways.
“I didn’t really tell many people. I was excited, but just maybe dancing around to myself, fist-bumping people. It wasn’t like I was screaming out, ‘Hey guys, I’m going to be on Jeopardy,'” Karides said.
What categories would be in his wheelhouse?
“Math is my strong suit, but there aren’t any math categories, so maybe something like geography or history or maybe Greek roots. I’m Greek, so I grew up with that around the house,” Karides said.
Is there a category he is dreading?
“Maybe like 2005 movies,” Karides admits, contrary to Trebek’s love of John Ford classics.
We can’t report which categories he got until ABC airs the show this fall, but check your local listings to root for this Maryland boy. Win or lose, it will be a dream come true to meet Trebek.
“Being a nerd, he’s a huge celebrity among us, so it’s definitely something I’ve never experienced before. Maybe the nearest comparable thing is when I met Drew Brees and he signed my lightsaber,” Karides said with a smile.
— Paul Gessler (@PaulGessler) April 12, 2016
Why didn’t he bring his lightsaber to the “Jeopardy!” taping?
“Shoot, I didn’t even think about that! I could have got Trebek to sign it,” Karides joked.
While Karides battles with a lightsaber, fellow contestant Sabrina Duong relies on a pair of cat ears.
“They are my secret weapon … I just really like cats. I really hope they let me wear them on the show,” said Duong, a sophomore at La Jolla High School near San Diego, California.
Duong began watching “Jeopardy” around age 10 and is hoping to get a literature or chess category.
However, if it’s history or geography, the show might favor Alec Fischthal of Hewlett, New York.
“I’ve always loved those two subjects … If I see history or geography on the board, I’m gonna light up,” said Fischthal, a junior at George W. Hewlett High School.
Like most impressionable youth, Fischthal’s area of expertise is driven by his childhood passion.
“I traveled extensively as a kid. My parents took me around Europe, they took me around the world, so I got to see a lot of the history in real life,” Fischthal said.
Not only is he a lifelong fan of traveling, he’s been a lifelong fan of “Jeopardy!”
“I think I started watching when I was about 5-ish. I remember watching through the whole Ken Jennings thing, so I saw like all 70-something days and it was amazing. And I’ve been watching up until now. I’m 16 now, so a significant chunk of my life,” Fischthal said.
Like Karides, Fischthal is also pumped about meeting Trebek.
“It’s going to be a little more than surreal. This is Alex Trebek. I’ve always seen him on TV. I’ve always seen the other contestants up there. It’s kind of weird to think that that’s me now,” Fischthal said.
Of course, there is one person who has seen more contestants than anyone else: “Jeopardy!” and “Wheel of Fortune” Executive Producer Harry Friedman, who was honored during Tuesday’s taping for setting the Guinness World Record for most game shows produced: 11,128 as of March 31.
He’ll never forget his first show.
“It was at ‘Hollywood Squares.’ I was the associate producer. It was 1973 … I think it’s a pretty safe bet that Paul Lynde was in the center square, and Charlie Weaver was in the lower left, and Rose Marie was in the upper middle, and I was backstage,” Friedman recalled.
Working with Trebek on “Jeopardy!” has been one of the true highlights of his career.
“He’s simply the best. Could anybody be better suited to host this show?” Friedman asked.
Friedman has also had a long relationship with “Wheel of Fortune” hosts Pat Sajak and Vanna White.
“They are exactly what they seem to be: two of the nicest, most down-to-earth people you could ever meet … Pat’s permanent home is in the Baltimore area. He married a woman from this area and he stuck around. He really likes it … It’s wonderful to be associated with the type of programming that makes people happy and gives money away. What could be wrong with that?” Friedman said.
So it’s only fitting that he set this game-show record during the D.C. Teen Tournament
“Both of our shows, ‘Wheel’ and ‘Jeopardy!’, have a lot of legacy viewers. We have one people watching whose parents watch it, and they’re parents watched it, so that’s one of the advantages of having been around for so long,” Friedman said. “It is fitting.”