I’ll take dreams for $1,000, Alex

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Stratford grad Mai Kulkarni with Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek (Photo of Sony Pictures)

By CARLY WANNA, Gazebo Editor

Mai Kulkarni spent her time at Stratford Academy studying a vigorous AP course load and hanging out with friends. She was a self-professed nerd.

She also had a dream. She wanted to compete on America’s most popular and longest running game show.  Kulkarni, a 1993 Stratford graduate, never gave up on that dream.

After four online tests, an in-person audition, hours of studying and a plane ride to the west coast, she stepped up to the podium in August of this year to compete in”Jeopardy!”

Kulkarni booked time out of her busy day as a financial planner to take an online test in April, along with about 100,000 adults with aspirations to compete on the popular program. About 3,000 of the highest scoring adults were called for an in-person audition. Kulkarni received a call in July saying that she was invited to a taping of the show.

“I did study, but they don’t tell you anything,” said Kulkarni, who received her Masters degree in business administration from Vassar College. “It’s trivia, so it could be literally anything. I did some Google searches on what other people had studied.”

The Stratford alum found her work cut out for her upon discovering lists of countries, capitals, world leaders and historical dates that she wanted to commit to memory.

Kulkarni attended a live taping in August, but she had to keep the results of her showing a secret. On Sept. 22, her episode finally aired. She finished in second place with $2,000.

“Everybody was so excited, and I was very proud of myself and I came in second,” said Kulkarni. “Once you’re in that show everybody knows that we’re all as smart as each other. But it’s a game, so it’s all about speed and luck.”

While Kulkarni would have enjoyed first place, she loved fulfilling her “Jeopardy!” dreams. Kulkarni even got to spend time with Alex Trebek … kind of.

“Basically, as much as I talked to him, was as much as you saw on film,” said Kulkarni.

Kulkarni is not the first Stratford affiliate with a “Jeopardy!” connection. Chemistry teacher Mr. Luke Harrington auditioned for the game show in 2007. He made it to the in-person audition twice but was never called back.

“I don’t know if I’ll try out again … I get mad every time they have the teacher tournament,” said Harrington. “They try to have people from different regions. They said sometimes it even comes down to name because you can’t have two Dave’s on the same show.”

Stratford alum Bert Thompson, who graduated in 2012, auditioned for the “Teen Jeopardy!” competition in between his junior and senior year.

“I was pretty nervous about it,” said Thompson. “A lot goes into the audition process, from buzzer speed to basic knowledge. After that round of interviews, they invite only certain people back to be on the show. I was sadly not invited back, but I plan on auditioning again.”

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Mai Kulkarni finished second in the Jeopardy! episode that aired on Sept. 22 (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures)