Teens compete in Kansas City for a spot on ‘Jeopardy’

A couple dozen teens waited nervously in a Kansas City hotel Saturday morning. Their aim was a shot at the TV quiz show “Jeopardy” and its $75,000 teen tournament prize.

One by one, auditioners stood against a pale blank wall as senior contestant coordinator Robert James snapped a photo.

Kellie Dick, 14, struck a profile, fully aware this is about television, not just brains.

“Mr. Snazzy Bow Tie, come on,” James said, beckoning Ari Krumbein to the wall.

First came the photo wall, then a 50-question “Jeopardy”-style written quiz in less than seven minutes, followed by brief buzzer-beating competitions among three teens at a time, just like on television.

“Smile,” contestant coordinator Corina Nusu coached the crowd. “It’s a game show, everybody. We want you to have a crazy big voice.”

The questions were tough but secret, so no tips here. And these kids were up to the challenge.

Getting on that show, which will be shot in early March and air a few weeks later, won’t be easy.

“Jeopardy” will audition 300 teens to find 15 who will make the tournament. Just to reach an audition meant scoring well on one of the show’s scheduled online quizzes.

These are ambitious kids — aspiring physicists and physicians, architects and aerospace engineers.

Most traveled far to take part in the the two-hour audition at the Sheraton Kansas City Hotel at Crown Center. Home is in Texas, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan or Ohio.

Three came across Missouri to attend.

Only one contestant resides in the Kansas City area — Cory Cole, 17, of Overland Park.

She participates in the scholar bowl and theater at her all-girl high school, Notre Dame de Sion.

“I always end up playing dudes,” Cole said, except in the school’s production of “Hairspray,” in which she played teenager Tracy Turnblad’s mom, a role played traditionally by a man.

“So that’s kind of progress.”

But they are still teens. It showed when they filled the rows of seats in the contest room.

All six girls sat at the tables to the right of the aisle. All 16 boys sat on the left except Connor Robinson, who was one of the first in the room and sat in the front on what turned out to be the girls’ side.

“This is kind of like a high school dance setup,” he said.

Though young, they know what to do with $75,000.

Robinson said he would travel through Europe in a counterclockwise direction to follow the expansion of the Roman Empire.

Viras Mehta has a rusty old car and would “trick it out” and start a company.

Many said they would pay for college, lifting the burden off their parents.

Then there are Harry Rubin’s plans.

“My parents don’t know it’s $75,000. So I could tell them it’s 50.”

How to play ‘Jeopardy’

• Don’t buzz until host Alex Trebek finishes reading the answer, but keep buzzing.

• The form of the question doesn’t have to make sense. “What is Justin Bieber?” still counts.

• Skip saying “Please,” “Alex” or other extraneous phrases when asking for the next clue. It wastes time and leaves money on the board.