La Jolla High School sophomore Sabrina Duong has always had goals, and has achieved them sooner than she expected. She wanted to be an author by the time she was 15, and had a story published through a writing contest when she was 13. She wanted to qualify for the State Championships in Speech and Debate, and did so on her first try as a freshman (and again as a sophomore).
She wanted to go on the television quiz show “Jeopardy” when she was an adult, but did it at the age 15. Her episode will air as part of the two-week Teen Tournament Sept. 12-23 on NBC 7 San Diego. A member of the La Jolla High School Academic League Team, Sabrina was one of the 15 students from across the nation invited to the Tournament, and recently returned from Washington D.C. where she was filming her episode.
“When we got the call that I was one of the kids selected, I was really surprised. I didn’t even think I would get past the online test, I just wanted to see how far I could take it,” she said, adding the process was full of surprises.
After watching “Jeopardy” one night with her dad, Henry, Sabrina joked about signing up for the Teen Tournament. “We didn’t think about it for a few months, but then one day I thought of it again and realized we never looked into (the requirements). I looked it up online and the online test was the next day. I thought, ‘OK, I have no time to prepare,’ but I signed up anyway,” she said. But there was a technical difficulty so she couldn’t take the test. However, because of the technical issue, a makeup test was offered a month later.
“The online test was 50 questions and they give you 15 seconds to type each response,” Sabrina explained. “About 10,000 signed up for the online test and they bring 500 of those that pass a certain percentage (of correct answers) for in person interviews/auditions. We drove to LA for my audition, which consisted of a written test of 50 more questions and mock games where you use a buzzer, pick a category and practice answering in the form of a question. Then they have a personality assessment to see if the person would be good for TV.”
With personality to spare, Sabrina explained that she wore a headband with cat ears on to for the audition (but wasn’t allowed to wear it on the show), and when asked what her goal is for the future, she said she wrote “be happy.” When asked what she wants to study in college, she quipped she would one day like to have a Ph.D. in underwater basket-weaving.
Although she had little time to prepare, her natural intellect and love of trivia carried her through the tests and ultimately the episode.
“When I was in eighth grade, my school had a Quiz Bowl team, where we read trivia questions and could buzz in. They have what they call ‘pyramidal questions,’ where the bottom questions are ones you would know right away and the top questions are really obscure,” Sabrina said. “So I joined the Academic League quiz Bowl team as a freshman and again this year. It’s so cool how my teammates are so smart and great. We also have great teachers (and team coaches) in Mr. Quesnell, and Ms. Lyon – without them I don’t think I would have gotten on ‘Jeopardy,’ because Quiz Bowl is a great way to prepare for the stuff that comes up on ‘Jeopardy.’ ” With an impressive ability to retain tidbits of information, Sabrina is able to recite Pi to 505 places.
But the years of watching the show at home provided little help, she said. “Whenever you sit on the couch and watch ‘Jeopardy,’ you can yell out answers without having to buzz in or think about competitors, or not answer in the form of a question. You can pause and think about it a little bit, and not have to think about the audience or that (host) Alex Trebek is a few feet from you. When you are playing for the show, you’ve got lights, mics, the buzzer, the competitors and the audience to consider, there’s a lot of pressure! It’s a lot harder than it looks on TV! Even now when I watch ‘Jeopardy,’ I think, I actually did that.”
Dad Henry added that Sabrina has been watching the show since she was about 5 or 6 years old.
The two also watch “The Amazing Race” together, and no surprise, Sabrina said she would also like to audition for the reality competition show. “Watching that show is the one thing I look forward to every week,” she said. “When I have a difficult test to study for, I think to myself, if I get through this I can watch ‘Amazing Race’ on Friday. My dad is one of the most skilled people I know, so I think we would make a great team. It would be ‘amazing’ to solve these tasks and see the world.”
But before she can audition for “The Amazing Race,” she needs to finish high school. So in the next two years, she hopes to score in the 99th percentile on the SATs, again qualify for State with her Speech and Debate team, and graduate with above a 4.0 GPA (with her AP course load, she is well on her way).
Smiling, her father said while Sabrina’s accomplishments are impressive, it is the bond they share that he is most grateful for. “It’s great that we get to spend so much time together. I’m proud of her and am happy about what she has accomplished, but I’m most proud of and feel blessed by the closeness we have.”