Update: Corey Schmalzle placed third in his round on Thursday with $11,000. The top four non-game winners with the highest money totals will advance as wild cards. Schmalzle is still eligible for a wild card spot in the semifinals next week.
When Corey Schmalzle, ‘17, found out he was going to be on the “Jeopardy! College Championship,” he didn’t turn to the library or encyclopedias. He went to weekly trivia at Molly’s Irish Grille & Sports Pub instead.
His trivia knowledge will be put to the test Thursday when his episode airs at 7 p.m. on WPVI channel 6. The winner of the competition receives $100,000 in cash and the first and second runners-up win $50,000 and $25,000, respectively. Schmalzle is the first Lehigh student to ever compete in the college championship.
The chemical engineer said he has never been a loyal fan of “Jeopardy!” but one day in late September, he decided to take a 50-question online quiz. His scores qualified him for the next round, and he was invited to a live audition in New York. At the end of November, he was offered one of the 15 spots in the competition.
The “Jeopardy! College Championship,” which runs from Feb. 13-24, was filmed over two days in January. Schmalzle was flown out to Los Angeles, all expenses paid for by the show.
Although Schmalzle is not allowed to reveal how far he got in the competition, he said appearing on the show was a great experience. Meeting the other contestants from around the country — and the show’s host, Alex Trebek — was a highlight for Schmalzle.
“(Trebek’s) dressing room must be right off stage because one morning, he poked his head out and he was wearing a Hawaiian shirt and under that, he had a Jack Daniel’s shirt on,” Schmalzle said. “Definitely not the look that I would’ve expected from him.”
Schmalzle was worried there would be a competitive atmosphere on set, but he was relieved to find that wasn’t the case. He said he bonded with the other students during the hours they spent in the green room together.
The contestants weren’t allowed to have their phones on them or watch the other students compete. When they weren’t in a round, the remaining students were isolated from the set to prevent cheating. With wild card spots, knowing how much money their competitors won could affect the contestants’ gambling.
Every 45 minutes, producers would come into the green room and take three students to film their round.
“We didn’t know when we were going, so it was kind of like the Hunger Games,” Schmalzle said. “They would come in and say, ‘You three, go.’ Every time the door opened, my blood pressure would spike for a second.”
Schmalzle said he thought a lot about what he wanted to say during his introduction on the show. A lot of people wanted a shout out, including the Molly’s bartender. Schmalzle, who is interested in going into the film industry, decided to ask Trebek for a job instead.
“I told him that if there were any openings at the Sony set, I would be willing to fill them,” he said. “I’m still waiting on the call.”
Schmalzle plans to watch Thursday’s episode in his fraternity house, Phi Delta Theta. He said there might also be a viewing party at Molly’s, the place where it all began.