Former AHS student stars on Jeopardy!

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“A proud alum of American Heritage hailing from Ft. Lauderdale, starring on the hit show Jeopardy! tonight.”

Answer: “Who is Alec Chao?

From a young age, Alec Chao (class of 2018), was an avid fan of trivia, tuning in to watch the popular game show every night. “I was a pretty voracious reader, so I pestered my parents constantly, asking them ‘did you know [insert XYZ fact here]’ whenever I read something particularly interesting,” he revealed. 

Middle school, though, was when Chao first grew interested in pursuing competitive trivia. “My civics teacher entered fellow Heritage alum Stefan Abi-Karam (’18) and me in a countywide trivia contest called Knowledge Bowl,” he said. “We didn’t advance beyond the quarterfinal round, but we did well enough that I figured I could be a competitive quizzer.” 

During his junior and senior year of high school, he participated in both the Quiz Bowl and History Bowl. Through his four years, he continued to prepare for his dream of one day landing a Jeopardy! spot, taking every possible practice test including the Kids’ Week exam, the Teen Tournament exam, the College Tournament and, evidently, the Anytime exam that would qualify him for the show.

Upon finishing high school, Chao attended the University of Miami, graduating in 2022 with a Bachelor of Arts in History and International Relations as well as a minor in Art History. Although UMiami didn’t have a quiz bowl team, he does fondly remember winning $200 at a bar trivia tournament as a freshman, which he joked “made him a minor campus celebrity for about a week.”

After college, Chao landed a job as a performance analyst for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in Washington, D.C, which he claims has improved his math skills when it comes to wagering money. In March of 2023, he was finally able to apply these skills as he made his official Jeopardy! debut. 

“In many ways, Jeopardy! feels a bit like the pinnacle of competitive quizzing,” Chao stated. “I participate in online quiz and trivia competitions like LearnedLeague and NAQT’s Buzzword, but I think even Ken Jennings [the game show’s host since 2021] would agree that going on Jeopardy! is kind of like being called up to the big leagues from Minor League Baseball. It’s appointment viewing in many households and it’s left such a lasting impression on American culture, so to be a part of the show’s history in some small way was a significant draw for me.”

In preparation for the show, Chao found himself falling back on some of the same preparatory materials he once used for quiz bowl including flashcards, self-made codexes and toss-up packets. About a month before his tape date in January, the show’s producers gave him what Jeopardy! contestants affectionately refer to as ‘The Call,’ letting him know that he had been selected. Chao spent much of the month of December reading various trivia books and almanacs, getting up to speed on the latest pop culture. Although, he did admit that by the time the show was filmed came it was mostly his own knowledge rather than last minute preparation he relied on. 

Chao’s episode aired officially March 24, 2023. Throughout the game, Chao held strong, heading into the final round, with a dominant total of $15,200, leading his opponents who had $6,800 and $4,600, respectively. 

The Final Jeopardy question under the category “Movie Theme Songs” read: “Monty Norman, the composer of this character’s theme, said the staccato riff conveyed sexiness, mystery & ruthlessness.” Chao, guessing correctly with his answer of “James Bond,” added a safe bet of $305 (certainly an affirmation of his mathematical prowess), earning himself a win and $15,505 in cash. 

Speaking on his overall experience, Chao emphasized the sense of community that Jeopardy! offered. “My favorite part [of the game] is easily meeting my fellow contestants,” he said. “Nominally, everyone is there to play Jeopardy! and hopefully win some money doing it, but friendships develop very quickly and contestants are often just as happy to see their new friends win as they are to win themselves.” 

When asked if he had any advice for Heritage students contemplating a future Jeopardy! career, Chao stated, “I’d say that I wouldn’t have had as much success in my trivia endeavors were it not for my participation in quiz bowl and History Bowl at Heritage. And I’d highly encourage anyone who’s ever thought about it to take the Jeopardy! Anytime test. Truly, you never know what might happen.”

If you would like to support Alec, you can tune in to ABC tonight — Thursday, January 25 at 7:30 p.m. — as he competes in the Champions Wildcard Tournament. 

Here at Patriot Post we wish our former staffer all the best!

Chao pictured alongside Jeopardy! host Ken Jennings. (Photo/Sony Pictures)

In 2018, Chao competed at the High School National Championship Tournament for National Academic Quiz Tournaments, LLC (NAQT). Pictured left to right, top to bottom are Nick Montes (Heritage ’18), Shayaan Subzwari (Heritage ’19), Sriraj Atluri, Chao, Aditya Bafna and Kishan Patel (all Heritage ’18).

Irene, now a senior at American Heritage, returns to staff as the Online-Editor-in-Chief for her third and final year with the Patriot Post. She loves all things literature and spends most of her time with her nose in a book. Her passion for writing started early, and she is currently the co-president of the Quill and Scroll Society. When she is not studying or writing articles for the wonderful iPatriotPost, she enjoys volunteering and helping lead a multitude of clubs at Heritage. Since 2014, she has worked alongside Best Buddies, an organization that advocates for inclusivity for those with intellectual and physical disabilities. As a co-founder and current board member of the South Florida Best Buddies Student Advisory Board, she plans fundraisers and service projects, including the annual Friendship Walk, which raised almost $300,000. She looks forward to making this year special and as amazing as possible.