For Ohio State student Maria Khrakovsky, “Jeopardy!” was always more than just a TV show. As a young girl trying to learn English, she would tune into the program every evening, and she dreamed of one day being a guest on the program.
Khrakovsky, a fourth-year in accounting and French, got to cross the feat off her bucket list Friday when she appeared on “Jeopardy! College Championship” representing OSU.
“Ever since I was a little kid, I have loved ‘Jeopardy!’” Khrakovsky said.
Khrakovsky only made it through the first round of the competition after losing her place in the lead because she incorrectly answered the final “Jeopardy!” question. She won $5,000 total, though, she said.
Khrakovsky said she doesn’t have any regrets about the way it turned out.
“I’m really happy with the experience overall,” she said. “I was literally speechless at some points just being on the set, having a childhood dream of mine come true.”
When the 15 contestants met for the first time, Khrakovsky said she was impressed by the other college students.
“I did get, I don’t want to say intimidated, but kind of a little bit overwhelmed. I saw a bunch of schools like Berkeley and Harvard, just kind of big name schools,” she said.
Khrakovsky said she was proud to represent OSU and corrected people multiple times on set, telling them, “It’s ‘the’ Ohio State.”
“I was definitely a little bit obnoxious about it but that’s how we (at OSU) are — we’re obnoxious and we love it,” she said.
Even “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek jokingly started correcting audience members during commercial breaks who mentioned OSU without the “the,” Khrakovsky said.
Her interest in the show runs deeper than its entertainment value, though. Khrakovsky, who is from an immigrant family, said when she and her family came to the U.S. from Ukraine, her parents watched a lot of TV to improve their English. Every night, her family would gather together at after dinner to watch game shows.
“‘Jeopardy!’ was always kind of part of it,” she said. “My brother and I would sit on the couch and count on our fingers how many questions we got right and argue about who answered it first.”
Khrakovsky was born in Ukraine after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Her family immigrated to the U.S. when she was 3 months old, first moving to Cleveland and later to Columbus, Khrakovsky said.
Khrakovsky was rejected the first time she tried out for the show as a third-year, but she tried for a second time this year.
“The day after I got the call, I thought it was all a dream. I had to double check my email to make sure and double check my phone to see if they really did call me,” she said.
Khrakovsky’s roommate, Claire Giesige, a fourth-year in English, said during her and Khrakovsky’s freshman year, Khrakovsky sometimes tried to get her Lincoln Tower suitemates to watch “Jeopardy!”
“I was into it the first time, and then we started playing with (Khrakovsky) and realized that she was just leaps and bounds better than us,” she said jokingly. “I was like, ‘No, I’m never going to play this ever again with you.’”
Giesige said Khrakovsky kept the outcome of the early January filming a secret, which made her nervous, especially when about 25 guests filled their living room for a “Jeopardy!” viewing party Friday.
“When I saw her, I was just so incredibly proud of what she did, just right off the bat she was on a roll,” she said. “It was actually really fun to watch because she did so well, I mean the whole house was just going crazy.”
Khrakovsky’s brother Dimitri Khrakovsky, a Ph.D. student in organic chemistry at University of California-Berkeley, said he was proud.
“When she decides to push herself, she definitely goes all the way. She can be reluctant, you know, to take the first step, but once she commits to something, she’s definitely going to see it through,” he said. “I’m just proud that she got on and that she was able to do her best.”
He said he was inspired by his sister’s perseverance and took the online contestant test this year.
“I don’t think I’ll be called back, though,” he said.
Maria Khrakovsky said a picture she got with Trebek is now the background on her phone and her Facebook profile photo.
“It was such an incredible experience,” she said.
As far as the future goes, Maria Khrakovsky said she plans to graduate in May and then return to school to earn her master’s of accounting at OSU.
She said she has a list of life goals, one of which she got to check off with her appearance on “Jeopardy!”
“It’s kind of one of those bucket list things where you’re like, ‘Oh I’m going to be 80 years old and I’m going to pull out this list. And I’m going to realize that I didn’t do any of them,” she said. “So I think one of the most amazing things about this experience was that I did one of them while I was 21 years old.”