East Hills native competes on ‘Jeopardy!’

East Hills native competes on ‘Jeopardy!’
Katie Lombardo with Alex Trebek and her good luck charm, a purple Peep named Galahad. (Photo courtesy of Katie Lombardo)

In the lead for the entire first round and the only contestant to write an exclamation point after her name: it’s East Hills’ own “Jeopardy!” contestant Katie Lombardo.

After years of applying and decades of watching the show at home with her father, Lombardo competed in an episode of “Jeopardy!” that aired last week.

“I had grown up watching the show,” she said. “I would watch it all the time with my family. My dad and I would get competitive with it.”

When the show called her in June to tell her she would film in a month, she was excited but also relieved. She would be moving abroad to start graduate school at the University of Glasgow in the fall. After years of applying, the offer was just in time to avoid a hassle of international proportions.

“It was like ‘oh, thank god,’ but also one more thing I have to do before I move,” Lombardo said.

The test to apply for the show is available once a year, and it only takes about 15 minutes to complete, Lombardo said. Around 70,000 people apply, of which about 3 percent are called in for interviews, according to The Seattle Times. Lombardo had two interviews, one in 2015 and another in 2017, before being offered a spot.

She invited her father and best friend from college to watch in the audience.

“I helped her with a lot of the logistics,” her father, Richard Lombardo, said. “I’m like her unofficial ‘Jeopardy!’ coach.”

The show records five episodes a day, and Lombardo has stayed in touch with the contestants she met there, she said. They have a group chat.

Many of them, including Lombardo, have no recollection of some of the questions they got correct, while the ones they got wrong are ingrained in their memories.

Lombardo does, however, remember, and is still excited about, her true Daily Double in which she wagered her entire score.

The category: “Pop culture adapts Shakespeare.”

The question: “The 1950s sci-fi classic ‘Forbidden Planet’ is based on this play, with Robby the Robot as Ariel.”

As Trebek was reading the question, Lombardo began to grin and hop from foot to foot.

“It was funny because … it’s a movie she thinks it’s like the dumbest movie of all time,” Richard Lombardo said. “It’s one of my favorite science fiction movies, but I didn’t know it was based on a Shakespeare play.”

After Lombardo answered correctly, Trebek said, “Oh, I love it when you think you know the correct answer and you start showing.”

Lombardo grew up in East Hills and attended Roslyn Public Schools through high school. After graduating in 2009, she went to Oberlin College, where she majored in cinema studies and art history and minored in history.

She captained the university’s quidditch team, which “Jeopardy!” enthusiasts across the country now know because it was the anecdote she conversed with Trebek about after the second commercial (though it was quickly upstaged by the contestant to her right who proposed to his girlfriend in the audience).

In the end, all three contestants answered correctly in Final Jeopardy!, but Lombardo’s wager landed her in third. She still had fun, she said, and her friends and family were excited for her.

“A bunch of my friends threw a party to watch the episode,” Lombardo said. “They made masks of my face.”

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