CHARLOTTE – Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools posted a photo of Teagan O’Sullivan with “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek on Instagram a few days ago, telling its 32,000 followers the Ardrey Kell High School student will compete on the syndicated quiz show.
It happened to be the first post on Teagan’s Instagram feed when she opened the social media app.
“This caught me … very off guard,” she replied to the post.
While the moment was surreal for Teagan, it also made her “Jeopardy!” experience feel more real.
She makes her “Jeopardy!” debut at 7 p.m. June 17 on WCNC-TV (NBC). She was one of just two high school freshmen competing in the two-week teen tournament.
“Jeopardy!” has been on in the O’Sullivan household for as long as Teagan can remember, but she’s watched it since third grade. She’s good at retaining random information. She’s especially strong at history and pop culture.
“Teagan’s love of geography and history started at an early age,” said Teagan’s mother, Maura O’Sullivan. “She knew all the state capitals by the age of 5 and has extensive knowledge about the presidents and their families.”
Teagan has competed nationally in history bee and quiz bowl competitions as a student at Metrolina Regional Scholars Academy. She did so well in an online tryout, “Jeopardy!” invited her to Washington, D.C. for an in-person audition.
Teagan and her family traveled to California in December for the taping of the tournament. Her parents, Michael and Maura O’Sullivan, as well as her younger sisters, Ruari and Catherine, were part of the studio audience.
“There were honestly a lot of emotions,” Maura said of watching her daughter compete on the show. “They really did a good job to make it be a very enjoyable experience, but I was actually on the edge of my seat, as well. It was a great experience for all of us.”
Though the stakes of “Jeopardy!” are much higher than a quiz bowl or history bee, Teagan said the show’s staff was very supportive and helped ease some of the stress.
Families in town for the teen tournament stayed at the same hotel. The show transported all the teens without their families from the hotel to the studio, giving them an opportunity to get to know each other.
“You don’t feel like it’s a super competitive atmosphere that pits people against each other,” Teagan said. “We all kind of became friends. We were only together for two days, but we were always together for those two days. I just got to know them really well. Everybody was really nice. We’re all still in touch.”
“Jeopardy!” has been a mainstay in American homes for 35 years, but the quiz show has seen increased popularity this year due the game play and dominance of contestant James Holzhauer and host Alex Trebek’s pancreatic cancer battle.
Trebek shared news of his diagnosis with fans in March. The show’s teen tournament was filmed in December, so the O’Sullivans didn’t notice anything wrong with the host during the taping.
One thing Teagan didn’t realize until the taping was how Trebek interacts with the audience during commercials.
And though she’s no stranger to buzzers, given her quiz bowl experience, she had to adjust to the game show’s buzzer system, which blocks contestants that try to buzz in while Trebek reads the clues.
“It’s kind of weird watching the show after you’ve been through the experience,” Teagan said. “It is definitely something I would do again because it was fun.”