Emmey Harris has a $250,000 secret.
To the television viewer, the University of Minnesota sophomore is currently rampaging through Jeopardy!'s National College Championship. In last week's episode, Harris aced 25 of 27 questions en route to a rout of her competitors from the University of Pennsylvania and Caltech. (As a Gopher grad, I must applaud this wholloping of fancy schools.) That victory assured the local history major of a $20,000 payday, and means her next episode—7 p.m. Friday, ABC—will determine whether she advances from the 12-person semifinals onto the championship show.
Thing is, the future is already written: Harris and her 35 competitors filmed the entire thing last November in L.A. The 19-year-old from Lincoln, Nebraska, has been sworn to silence by TV execs. Not even my hard-charging, Bill O'Reilly-ian style of interviewing could crack her ABC-mandated vow of secrecy.
“I do know the outcome, but I’m not allowed to say anything," Harris says with a chuckle. "It’s a little hard to keep things secret, and now it’s finally airing."
Growing up in Lincoln, Harris was a big-time Jeopardy! fan. She competed on her high school quiz-bowl team, and, due to COVID-19 restrictions, chose the U of M on something of a virtual whim.
“I couldn’t tour it, because I’m a 2020 graduate, but based on what I saw online, I liked it," she says. "The reputation, just something different. I thought it’d be fun to go to a big city for college."
Harris's Jeopardy! journey began over a year ago with a series of online qualification quizzes that 26,000+ other hopeful students filled out. Those lead to a Zoom audition, followed by a mock game and interview. Then, for months, radio silence until last fall when Harris was informed she'd be flying out to L.A. to meet host Mayim Bialik ("she's really cool, really smart") and begin marathon days of taping ("we got a bit of the show-biz experience").
The collegians were all put up in the same "really nice" hotel, where they bonded between competitions. They maintain a group chat, Harris says, and it's been quite active as episodes began airing earlier this month. As Harris's performances go public, she's receiving kudos from all areas of her life.
"My history teachers from back home were excited that I got, like, Iroquois Confederacy, Susan B. Anthony, and things like that," she says. "I’m not very knowledgeable about sports, but one of the questions was about Iowa Hawkeye wrestling. My dad’s side of the family is from Iowa, so they were excited I got that one right.”
Ben Ingram, an eight-time Jeopardy! winner who Harris had previously met during quiz bowls, offered high praise after last week's domination.
The U's proud, too.
As for the money, Harris plans to study aboard in Ireland over the summer and travel around Europe in her free time. How long and extravagant will that trip be? Depends on how many Jeopardy! bucks the young Gopher racks up, but we won't know that total for at least a couple days. Fourth place is awarded $35,000; third gets $50,000; second scores $100,000; and, as teased in this very headline, the champ takes home a quarter-million.
In other locally angled Jeopardy! news: Our flyover hearts went aflutter when a question about Duluth stumped all three contestants on the Valentine's Day episode, inspiring an entire breathless news cycle. God bless this place—who wouldn't wanna move here?