Who is Kayla Kalhor?
With her trivia competition experience in high school and work as a science bowl coordinator at UF, Kalhor, a 19-year-old UF chemistry sophomore, packed her bags to California to show off her trivia skills in the Jeopardy! College Championship.
Kahlor will be the third student after Ernst Bell, who competed in 1992, and Brian Johnson, who competed in 1994, to represent UF in the competition. Her first episode airs April 7 on CBS, but the show will start on April 6, said Alison Cooke, Jeopardy! Director of Communications.
Kalhor competed against students from different colleges, including Princeton University, Yale University, Northwestern University and Florida State University. She said she is not allowed to release information about the results to the public.
Thousands of students from all across the U.S. apply to be a part of the competition, but only 15 are chosen, Cooke said. Kalhor said she took an online quiz in March 2019 for the application. Then, she was sent to St. Louis, Missouri, in November for an in-person audition, which included another test, buzzer practice and a mock interview.
Kalhor said she applied for the show because she is a long-time fan. She previously applied to Jeopardy! in late 2018 and got called back to an audition in June that she couldn’t attend, she said.
Kalhor promised herself she would give it another shot — so she did. She said she was excited to experience the difference between watching it at home and actually being at the studio under the blinding lights.
“I’m really happy I did it,” Kalhor said. “It was a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
Kalhor said she found out she was accepted into the competition in January while she was at Marston Science Library. Cooke declined to comment when asked about the decision process for Jeopardy! and said nobody in the show could provide that information.
“I had to leave the library and go sit down somewhere because I was so shocked,” she said.
After receiving the call, Kalhor told her friends and family of the big surprise. Her mother, Mary Kalhor, said she was very proud of her daughter.
“My hope for her was that she just made herself proud and her school proud and that it went smoothly for her,” her mother said. “It was quite an accomplishment for her.”
The competition provided each contestant with free flights and hotel stays at the Culver Hotel for the four nights they were in California, Cooke said. The hotel was a mile away from Sony Pictures Studios, where the contest was filmed on its own set.
Kalhor would get to the set around 7 a.m. and finish at about 5:30 p.m. Although she missed two days of class, her professors were all excited for her, she said.
The competition’s winner will receive the grand prize of $100,000, while second place will win $50,000 and third place will win $35,000. Those who make it onto the semifinals will receive $10,000 each, and those who do not make it past quarterfinals get $5,000 each, Cooke said.
“There’s definitely a little more weight to it when you’re actually out there playing for real money,” Kalhor said. “So maybe you’re a little more wary about your answer.”
Kalhor said she believes she was chosen out of luck, but she also said her personality in the interview could have played a role in the decision process.
She said that meeting Alex Trebek, the show’s host, was one of the highlights of the experience. Trebek announced last March through a YouTube video that he had been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
“He’s just an icon for fighting through this diagnosis and continuing to host the show with the same grace that he’s always had,” Kalhor said.
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Kalhor will be the third student from UF to compete in the competition. The Alligator originally reported differently.
Contact Valentina Botero at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @lvbotero_.