Jeopardy Kid photo

Hendrix College junior Joe Coker competes on Jeopardy! and meets host Alex Trebek. Coker’s episode airs April 9.

Hendrix College junior Joe Coker is all set to make his Jeopardy! debut April 9 as part of the show’s College Championship series.

Coker, a fifth generation Hendrix student and a graduate of Conway High School, said he took an online test in October and received an email a week later to audition in Austin, Texas.

In November, Coker headed to Austin and said he had to take a written test and then was grouped with two others to play a practice game.

“While we were up, they interviewed us each and had us tell little stories about ourselves, like Alex (Trebek) does on the show,” Coker said. “I thought I did okay on the written test, but I felt like I did really badly in the practice game. I guess they must have liked my interview.”

Coker, a physics major at Hendrix, said he would find out if he made it to the show at the beginning of the year, but if he didn’t make it, they wouldn’t hear anything.

With about 10,000 people taking the online test, and about 300 people invited to the audition, Coker didn’t like his chances.

“I had pretty much written it off when the new year came and went, and I didn’t hear anything,” he said. “But on Jan. 15, in the middle of the afternoon, I got a call from Culver City, (California), and it was Glenn Kagan, the contestant coordinator from Jeopardy!, telling me that I had made it. I was completely blown away. I had really auditioned just for the fun of having gone for it; I never expected to really make it onto the show. But a few weeks later, there I was in (Los Angeles).”

After auditions, the competition was whittled down to 15 college students competing for a $100,000 grand prize and a berth into the Tournament of Champions.

Coker said the competition was tough.

“I really can’t stress just how evenly matched that tournament was,” he said. “When everyone is as smart as that group was, it becomes a furious race to every single question, and ultimately, it became a contest of reflexes and luck. Luckily, because it was a tournament, everyone was guaranteed to win at least $5,000, so although the games were hard fought, I don’t think anyone’s feelings were too hurt in the end.

“To me, the $100,000 prize was not my top priority. My goal was just to play my best and put up a good showing for myself and for Hendrix. I was representing the smallest college there by a pretty wide margin, and I’ll admit I was a little intimidated by all the contestants from bigger schools. I wanted everyone at Hendrix, and everyone who went to any small college, to feel proud of the showing I put up.”

Contestants came from the University of Texas, Carnagie Mellon University, Princeton University, Florida State University, University of Florida, Yale University, University of California at San Diego, University of Mississippi, Penn State, Northwestern University, University of Southern California, Indiana University, Liberty University and University of Minnesota.

While Coker said he enjoyed the experience of being on the show, the real highlight was getting to know the other contestants.

“Because of the role individual scores play in the Tournament of Champions, we weren’t allowed to see the games before ours, and I was in the fourth game of the first day,” he said. “That meant several hours of sequestration in the green room. But it was a blast hanging out with so many good people while we were all sharing one of the coolest moments in our lives. We played games, watched movies, and talked for hours about college life.

“It was almost like a party, except that we were all terribly nervous (or at least I was). We spent some time together at night after filming was finished, exploring LA and having fun.”

Viewers will have to wait and see if Coker advances when his episode airs on Thursday, April 9, where he competes against Beni Keown, a freshman from Northwestern State, and Xiaoke Ying, a sophomore from USC.

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