Caught in 'Jeopardy': Uni High teen's performance set to air this evening


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CHAMPAIGN — Since August, Tim Cho has been carrying a secret.

The 17-year-old Urbana Uni High student was free to tell friends where he went (Los Angeles) and why (to participate in the "Jeopardy!" teen tournament).

But anything beyond that was off-limits.

"I signed a non-disclosure agreement," he said with a knowing grin. "Now," when people ask, "I'm going with the excuse that it's more suspense for you."

Friends will get to see for themselves how Cho fared come 4:30 p.m. today, when his appearance in the quarterfinals of the teen tournament airs on WAND-TV.

No matter how far he advances, Cho was guaranteed to walk away from the experience at least $5,000 richer. He's not the first Champaign-Urbana resident to appear on the show — 2017's contestants included UI grad students Pranjal Vachaspati and Sam Spencer — and, truth be told, would rather not be pigeon-holed as a "Jeopardy!" kid.

"It's not the end-all thing," Cho said, "or at least I hope it isn't."

In addition to being "sort of a trivia nut," Cho plays small forward on Uni's basketball team — a sport the senior has grown to love.

"I mostly started as a way to hang out with friends; now, I just want to keep doing it," he said. "I like sports."

To the surprise of no one who knows him, Cho is also a member of Uni's quiz bowl team, which he counts as an opportunity beyond basketball to flex his competitive spirit — or in his words, a "competitive niche."

"It is really fun for me," he said.

It was that same spirit and investment in trivia knowledge that led him to "Jeopardy!" he explained.

"When the ad aired, I wanted to do it," he said. "Just because."

Cho doesn't know why he was selected out of other audition candidates — "They didn't tell me why" — but he guesses it was because they were looking for "interesting" contestants, and his stories about winning a limerick contest in school and what he would do with the money might have won over the judges.

"At the end, they ask what you would do with the money," he said. "I gave a heartfelt response: 'I would go to Korea.' Just never been — it's the home country of my parents, so it would be nice to reconnect with family there and speak the language and eat the food and visit the sites that I've only heard of."

But ask again, and he'll tell you he might just end up using that money for college. What college — and what program of study — is still up in the air.

"I like history and biochemistry both," he said. "I don't know. Those applications are coming up. Mostly, I hope I end up having fun with whatever I'm doing. Making money would be nice, but just, like, loving what I'm doing would help."

Either way, and whatever amount of money he takes home, his family remains proud he made it to the tournament at all.

"Once he sets his goal on something, he does not give up easily — even if the odds are long against him," said Cho's father, Seong. "I think his appearance on 'Jeopardy!' is just another example."

Added Tim: "My grandpa is pretty excited. He barely knows what 'Jeopardy!' is, but he's been going around saying, 'My grandson is on an American TV show!'"

What's one more secret Cho has about his "Jeopardy!" experience?

"You know how Alex Trebek seems to never mess up? That happened multiple times," he said. "They just edit it afterward."


Lyndsay Jones is a reporter covering education at The News-Gazette. Her email is ljones@news-gazette, and you can follow her on Twitter (@__lyndsayjones).