Evanstonian Simona Fine with Jeopardy! host Ken Jennings. Credit: Jeopardy Productions, Inc.

Simona Fine is in jeopardy.

Correction. Make that Simona Fine is on “Jeopardy!”, the longest running quiz show in television history. Her show airs this Monday, July 24, at 3:30 pm on ABC7.

Fine, a 23-year-old Northwestern University Ph.D. student in materials science and engineering is the sixth NU student to appear on Jeopardy! in the past decade or so.

“I was very nervous,” she says about the taping.

“I was surrounded by a lot of other smart people.”

Fine says she was “hoping for physics and chemistry” among her Jeopardy categories, a logical nod to her expertise.

What Fine definitely did not want was questions about “pop culture from before the 90s.”

“I’m not a big movies or old music person.”

For those who have not watched tv since 1964, when Jeopardy! first aired, the show features three contestants trying to answer questions in a variety of categories. The winner can walk away with lots of cash.

And, as any fan knows, the contestants must “give their answers in the form of a question.”

Fine admits to being a trivia addict. She attends trivia nights at an Evanston pizza place. She was on her quiz bowl teams at her Long Island high school, and as an undergraduate at NU.

Plus, she notes, “My uncle was on Jeopardy! before I was born.”

And after she was born, Fine says Jeopardy! was a dinnertime tv companion.

“Both of my parents were really into it,” so getting onto the show “was always a dream.”

Fine made it through the audition/tryout process, and found herself in Los Angeles in May to tape the program.

While there, she met lots of other contestants (multiple shows are taped the same day), including one who had been auditioning for 50 years before finally making it.

“Oh my God,” Fine thought at the time. “He’s been auditioning twice as long as I’ve been alive!”

Fine is not surprised that Evanston is a prime source for Jeopardy! contestants, a total of seven since 2010, six of whom, as noted, were students at NU.

“Being a scholarly academic community lends itself to more people being into trivia,” she explains.

The host for Fine’s show was Ken Jennings, the all-time Jeopardy champ, who ended up following in the footsteps of Art Fleming and Alex Trebek to MC the program.

Jeopardy also has another host on occasion, Actor Miyam Bialik.

Bialik has something that Fine is working to achieve — a Ph.D. in science, neuroscience to be exact, which sort of meant Bialik was typecast when she played a neuroscientist on the TV show “The Big Bang Theory.”

Fine is not allowed to reveal in advance how she did, nor even mention the question categories which actually appeared. You’ll have to watch to find out.

Either way, Fine says, “It was a really cool experience, really surreal being there in person.”

Being on Jeopardy! is definitely better than being in jeopardy.

And now, as on the program, Final Jeopardy! (for this story, not from Simona’s show):

The Final Jeopardy answer:

“Hypothalamic regulation in relation to maladaptive, obsessive-compulsive affiliative and satiety behaviors in Prader-Willi syndrome.”

And the correct response (making sure it’s in the form of a question):

“What was the title of Miyam Bialik’s doctoral dissertation?”


Update, July 24, 2023: Evanston’s latest contestant on the TV game show Jeopardy!, Northwestern University graduate student Simona Fine, did not do as fine as she would have liked.

Fine came in third out of three contestants.

Going into Final Jeopardy!, Fine had $4,000. The category was African Geography, and the Final Jeopardy! answer (Jeopardy! gives answers. Contestants must respond with a question) was “The only African nation where Spanish is the official language.”

Fine bet $2,500, guessed wrong, and dropped to $1,500.

But actually, she only walked away with $1,000. In order to encourage large bets in the final category, third place gets $1,000, no matter what they end up with, and second place gets $2,000.

The winner, who correctly asked “What is Equatorial Guinea,” wound up with $21,000 and a chance to come back to the next show and try to win even more.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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