It didn’t matter if Khalilah Walters got the Final Jeopardy question right or not. The other two contestants were at zero and she knew she hadn’t wagered more than she could lose and still win.
So the Danville attorney did a little dance as her wrong answer was revealed. It was not Franklin Roosevelt, but Harry Truman, who first televised a State of the Union address.
But it was good enough. She had wagered $4,401 and wound up with $2,399 to become the “Jeopardy!” champ on Friday night’s episode.
“The thought process was to wager enough to win if the others maximized their bid and were correct, but to leave enough if we were wrong. Luckily, I was in the lead and could afford to do that,” she explained via email. “And I wasn’t confident. I wrote the right answer before crossing it out and writing something else. I am still kicking myself over that.”
Walters is an attorney with the local law firm of Daniel, Medley & Kirby. Her husband, Joshua Sperber, is an assistant professor of political science and history at Averett University. They are the parents of a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old.
Born and raised in Jamaica, she came to the United States when she was 18 and is an American citizen.
“I attended Middlebury College in Vermont, then Harvard Law School,” she said. “My parents were working class people with a high school education, but we did have a family tradition of watching Jeopardy.”
Although she’s not a huge trivia buff, she said she does enjoy it sometimes.
Mostly, with a job and two small children, she doesn’t have much time to watch TV, even “Jeopardy!”
Being a contestant
Walters tried out for “Jeopardy!” for the second time in January 2019 with an online test and was subsequently selected for an in-person test and audition in June 2019. In December 2019 she was invited to appear for filming in January.
“The numbers I’ve heard repeated are that approximately 100,000 people a year take the online test. Of that 100,000, they’ll see approximately 2-3,000 a year for live auditions,” she wrote. “And of that 2-3,000, they’ll use approximately 400 a year on the show.”
Being a contestant on “Jeopardy!” has been on her bucket list, and she was happy to be on the show while Alex Trebek still is hosting.
She said Trebek, who is battling pancreatic cancer, was doing well when they taped in January and is even funnier in person.
“He is a treat,” she said.
Her mother-in-law, sister-in-law and a friend from law school were in the audience during the taping.
Five episodes are filmed a day, and the Friday episode she appeared in was the last one filmed that day.
“It’s pretty exhausting and nerve racking,” she said.
Answering the questions
Walters first answered a question about the name of X-rays correctly and then knew Virginia was the most populous state in 1790. By the end of the first round, she had earned $400.
Then she was in the lead early in Double Jeopardy.
The category of Latin phrases was kind to her, so she risked $2,000 on the Daily Double in that category to answer correctly that John Wilkes Booth shouted “Sic semper tyrannis” (“Thus always to tyrants”) when he leaped to the stage after shooting Abraham Lincoln.
She had $6,800 going into Final Jeopardy, while her opponent had $5,600 and the champion from the day before went from zero to $1,200 barely in time to qualify for the final question.
“It’s a hard thing to ‘study’ for,” Walters said about preparing for the game. “In my case, the better preparation would have been working on my buzzer technique and cultivating more calmness.”
She was hoping for categories about languages, world geography and history, but dreading anything sports, especially baseball. She did get the Latin category, but also had a category about different kinds of pitches in baseball.
Walters said local response to her “Jeopardy!” appearance has been heartening.
“I’ve appreciated the kind and supportive feedback from the community,” she said.
Walters will appear again on Jeopardy to defend her title at 7:30 p.m. Monday on WDBJ-7.
Elzey is a freelance writer for the Register & Bee. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (434) 791-7991.