by Lorrie Ham
“Jeopardy was a great experience—one I’ll never forget,” said Mound Westonka High School senior Joe Vertnik.
After earning one of only 15 spots in the Jeopardy Teen Tournament, Vertnik went on to win $10,000 after reaching the semi-final round. While the two-week tournament was taped last November, the show did not air until early February, and Vertnik and his parents, Steve and Debbie, were sworn to secrecy.
Vertnik, who earned the right to compete after taking an online test and taking part in a live audition in Chicago, said the best part of the experience was getting to meet all of the other great teens in the competition.
“They are seriously some of the smartest, nicest, most down to earth teens I've ever met,” said Vertnik. “They're all gonna go places, I guarantee it.”
Vernik advanced to the semi-final round by virtue of his high score in the first round. In an unprecedented tournament outcome, all three contestants in his semi-final round wagered all of their money in Final Jeopardy—and all three got the question wrong. As a result, none of the three advanced to the finals.
“I regret not saving a dollar or two in my semi-final game,” Vertnik said. “I was so close to just not writing the third ‘0’ in ‘$12,000’ and just betting $1,200 to play it safe. But I decided that I needed to play to win, so I did what I thought I had to do.”
Vertnik said the Jeopardy questions were generally easier than he expected. He is proud of answering a question on Ke$ha—which he was sure made his friends back home giggle. And he surprised himself by running an entire sports category, a feeling that was mutual among some of his athletic classmates.
How hard was it to keep the tournament outcome a secret? Pretty hard, said Vertnik, who added that several of his classmates were convinced that he had won the $75,000 top prize. Vertnik is saving his $10,000 winnings by investing in stocks and bonds.
Overall, Vertnik said his fellow students were really happy about his win in the quarterfinals and disappointed in his semi-final loss. His teachers were pleased with his performance in their subject areas, he added.
Vernik has ambitious plans for the future. He would like to go to Yale, but if he is not accepted there, he plans to attend the University of Minnesota Morris where he would like to double or possibly triple-major in Secondary Education, History, and possibly Earth Sciences, with a minor in Spanish.