Middkid Who Competed on Jeopardy! Who is Erika Sloan?


Sloan ’16 watches herself compete in the Semifinals of Jeopardy! (Campus/Rachel Frank)

By Emilie Munson

As a kid, Erika Sloan ’16 always wanted to be on Jeopardy!. Nearly every night after dinner, her family would watch the trivia show together with Sloan pretending to be a contestant and playing along with the show. Today, the classics major from Simsbury, CT no longer needs to pretend.

This February, Sloan fulfilled her childhood dreams when she watched herself appear on national television, competing on Jeopardy!’s annual College Championships for a grand prize of $100,000. After submitting an online test last March, Sloan was invited to come to the Jeopardy! studios in New York City to complete another online test, participate in a mock show and do an interview. In November, she found out that she was selected as one of fifteen bright college students to be on the show, making her the College’s second ever Jeopardy! contestant — after Keith Williams ’07.

“It was a little bit of disbelief,” recalls Sloan of how she felt to be chosen for the show. “At first I got [a] voicemail that said ‘Hi, this is Glen from Jeopardy! give me a call back,’ and I was like they wouldn’t be calling me to tell me I didn’t get on the show… So I was hopeful but I didn’t want to expect too much. And then I called and he went through some legal stuff and then he was like, ‘Well, congratulations! You’re on the show.’”

Unlike many of her Jeopardy! competitors, Sloan never was on a quiz team or trivia bowl and has never even been to Trivia Night at the College. Her trivia prowess comes from a general love of learning.

“When I learn something that I find interesting, I absorb it and I guess I have the ability to remember it or at least have it on the tip of my tongue to be able to pull it out.”

To prepare for the taping of the show last month, though, Sloan did not simply lean on her prior knowledge. Sloan reviewed topics that frequently come up in trivia, for example Shakespeare plays and world trivia, and read about the strategies of former players.

Additionally, Sloan spoke to Williams, the college’s only other Jeopardy! participant, who runs a game theory and Jeopardy! wagering blog and helped Sloan learn the intricacies of betting to win. Like back in her childhood, sometimes she would practice by watching the show and pretending to buzz in.

Between the taping of the show in January and airing in February, Sloan was challenged with the task of keeping the results of the show a secret. Overall she says her friends were very impressed with how well she hid the results from them, even though occasionally she slipped up and mentioned a detail about a question that she shouldn’t have revealed.

Sloan’s two episodes, the College Championship’s Quarter and Semi-Finals, aired on Feb. 14 and 19 respectively. In the Quarterfinals, Sloan competed against a contestant from Ball State University and Ohio State University in categories such as U.S. cities, the stage and college football. Sloan trailed in the first round, ending the round in third place over 3,000 points behind the leader. She credits her slow start not to nerves but to trouble with the buzzer.

“The reason I was having so much trouble at the beginning was I just could not beat the other two on the buzzer at all. So every time I knew a question I was getting so frustrated because I just wouldn’t be able to get in.”

Despite these issues in the first round, Sloan proved her trivia talent in the next round by cruising up to a close second place.

In final Jeopardy!, in which contestants may wager a portion of their points, gaining more points if they get the question right but losing points if they get it wrong, Sloan surprised viewers by stealing first place with a correct answer and a confident wager of 3,000 points.

In the Semi-finals — which aired on Feb. 19 — Sloan was challenged by contestants from University of California Berkeley and Harvard University. She remained a stiff contender throughout the entire game, holding onto second place throughout the first and second rounds.

“There was a lot less pressure going into the second [episode, the Semi-finals,]” Sloan said. “I had already won a game and hadn’t made a total fool of myself. I had represented my family and friends and Middlebury well, so…going into the second one, it was like I have already proved myself.”

Unfortunately, Sloan’s strong performance was not enough to secure her a victory and advance to the Finals. In final Jeopardy!, Sloan, thanks to her Shakespeare studying, confidently generated the correct answer of “What is Falstaff?” to the question. “He has the most speeches of any character with 471 in three plays, of which 2 are histories and one is a comedy.” Her wager of 9,700 points was not enough, however, to surpass the leader, Kevin, of University of California Berkley.

Though Sloan may have lost in her episode, in other ways she gained a lot. During both episodes, Sloan experienced an outpouring of support from fans and peers via social media and in person. Sloan watched both episodes air in Crossroads Café with many of her enthusiastic student supporters who cheered for her correct answers and congratulated her efforts.

Furthermore, Sloan benefitted from the camaraderie of the other Jeopardy! College Championship contestant. During the taping of the show, contestants would sit in the audience and cheer for their former competitors.

Also, during the two weeks in which the series’ episodes aired, Sloan kept in close contact with the other contestants by corresponding on Facebook, Twitter and Google chat.

“Even though [all the contestants] were so different, we were bonded by this experience and it was just so nice to have people who understood to talk it all over with,” says Sloan. “Definitely more friendship came out of [Jeopardy!] than competition.”

Additionally, Sloan received the “added bonus” of 10,000 dollars for her advancement to the Semi-finals on Jeopardy!, money which she plans on using to pay for medical school and to buy herself a single scull to row in.

For Sloan, after wanting to be on Jeopardy! for so long, the hardest part of the end of her Jeopardy! run is not being able to participate in Jeopardy! again (the show has a rule that contestants may only participate once).

“Now that it is over, it’s like ‘I don’t get to be on Jeopardy! anymore.’ There is nothing to strive for,” she explains.

Sloan and her fellow contestants hope that in the future the show make an exception and allow a reunion tournament of their College Championships group. For now, Sloan may just have to satisfy herself with cleaning house at Trivia Night.