Wheaton resident goes from Jeopardy couch watcher to contestant
|Ashok Poozhikunnel (right) stands with Alex Trebek in the Jeopardy studio. (Submitted photo by Jeopardy Productions, Inc.)|
WHEATON — Answering questions posed by “Jeopardy’s” Alex Trebek is a completely different experience live than it is in the comforts of your living room, said Wheaton contestant Ashok Poozhikunnel.
For five episodes the 20-year-old underwriter competed in a battle of wits and quick buzzers on the long-running trivia game show. Poozhikunnel walked away with a new appreciation for pressure, serial television and $70,000 in prize money.
“When you’re a couch watcher you can answer as many questions as you want, but when you get there you realize everyone is at least as smart as you are and it comes down to getting the buzzer to work for you,” said the former Wheaton Warrenville South Scholastic Bowl team member.
After taking an online test in early 2012, Poozhikunnel received an invitation for live auditions in Chicago in the spring. Sitting in a room with other potential contestants he was required to take additional general knowledge tests. He performed well enough to receive an invitation to appear on the television show.
Poozhikunnel, who graduated from the University of Illinois with a degree in economics, received the call to appear on the program weeks before he was to start his career with Gallagher Benefits services in Itasca.
“My boss was really cool about it when I had to call him before I even started working and had to ask for some time off,” he said.
Poozhikunnel flew to California to compete, taping two shows in one day, then returning about a month later to tape the last three, he said. He said he had about 15 minutes between tapings to change clothes since the shows were aired on separate days.
“Jeopardy” contestants field questions on a wide-range of topics, including history, literature, science, pop culture, religion, economics and many others. One of the earliest questions Poozhikunnel answered was about insurance, the industry in which he now works.
“I don’t remember the question, but I remember the answer was catastrophe. I was glad my co-workers got to see me answer that,” he said.
Going into the competition Poozhikunnel said he felt confident in the subjects of history, literature and religion. While he felt he performed well when the subject was historical in nature, he said he didn’t fare so well in religion or literature.
During one round a picture of an Indian rickshaw was shown and he thought no one else would know that, but he was wrong.
“I got beat to the buzzer on that one,” he said.
Poozhikunnel said he’s also taken some good-natured ribbing for missing a Final Jeopardy question on the Seven Dwarves. Despite missing the question, Poozhikunnel was far enough ahead in score that he safely wagered the amount he would need to still win by $1.
Poozhikunnel became a fan of “Jeopardy” during Ken Jenning’s famed 75 appearances in 2004. That sparked an interest in general knowledge competitions, so when Poozhikunnel entered Wheaton Warrenville South High School, he joined the Scholastic Bowl team. Poozhikunnel credited the team’s coaches Jim Stankevitz and Mike Willuweit with providing him some training for his “Jeopardy” appearance.
Now that his run on the show is complete, Poozhikunnel said he’s not sure what he will attempt next, or what he will do with the winnings.
“I’m still 20 years old. I still have a lot to do with my life,” he said.
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