Orthodox Contestant on ‘Jeopardy College Championship’ Says ‘Rigorous, Religious-Secular’ Yeshiva Curriculum Prepared Him Well for Trivia ‘Cramming’
An Orthodox Jewish contestant competing in this year’s “College Championship” of the hit TV trivia quiz show “Jeopardy!” told The Algemeiner on Wednesday that his educational upbringing proved advantageous during his pre-program preparations.
Netanel Paley, a 21-year-old Yeshiva University (YU) junior majoring in biology with a minor in music, said it was precisely the “academically rigorous environment” at Jewish institutions — where “everyone has to adapt to a dual religious-secular curriculum” — that gave him the tools to bone up on the various categories “Jeopardy!” participants are grilled on.
Paley, from Teaneck, NJ, is competing against 14 other contenders from across the US for a grand prize of $100,000. He secured his spot in the fall, after succeeding at a live “Jeopardy!” tryout in New York, taking a 50-question written quiz and undergoing a two-minute personal interview. The undergrad received a call in early December inviting him to Los Angeles for a taping of the game show, which will air on ABC beginning Feb. 13.
Paley — who was a state finalist for the National Geographic Geography Bee and a regional finalist for the Scripps National Spelling Bee in high school — told The Algemeiner that he prepared for the “Jeopardy!” match by purchasing online and poring over reference books and crash-course manuals on an array of topics, among them movies, music, books and television. He said he purposely started studying the week before filming, cramming “intensely” the day before he appeared on camera — a method that he said tends to work better for him than learning a subject slowly over a long period of time.
Calling the experience “definitely more fun and exciting than stressful,” Paley said he was “very humbled” to represent the Jewish community in the competition. He told The Algemeiner that if he had been given a chance, he “would have liked to say something on air about how proud I am to be an Orthodox Jew and how proud I am to attend YU and learn Judaic and general studies at the same place. But I guess just appearing on TV with my kippah (skullcap) and payot (sidelocks) was nice. I hope I made a good impression.”
He added, “The whole experience was kind of surreal. The whole time I was like, ‘Is this really happening? Am I really going to be on TV? Me, representing the Jewish community.’ It was a lot to handle, but I’m really happy I did it.”
Paley said that if he wins the grand prize (though the show’s taping is finished and he knows the results, he is not at liberty to disclose them), he will set aside most of it for traveling. He hopes to visit South America, India, China and Ecuador, where he wants to spend time bird-watching in the rain forest. But a “significant amount” of the rest of the money, he said, he intends to donate to Jewish charities and non-profits, and to pay off students loans.