Rachel Rothenberg, a member of Sixth Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, has had a busy year.
Right now, she's settling into life as a college freshman. Before that she went to Minneapolis to attend the 219th General Assembly as a Young Adult Advisory Delegate. Prior to that she graduated from high school. And before doing any of that, she won the Teen Tournament on the game show Jeopardy.
Rachel credits her family background for making her a natural fit for the quiz show.
"My family is pretty competitive but we're really bad at sports, so a lot of our family competitive spirit is turned toward board games like Trivial Pursuit," says Rachel. "I was always pretty good at Trivial Pursuit and I watched a lot of Jeopardy with my grandmother. She watches it every night."
When Rachel’s mother saw an e-mail about the online test for Jeopardy's Teen Tournament, she encouraged Rachel to try it just for fun.
"I didn't even think I was going to get on, but they called in April of 2009 and told me I was eligible for the regional competition," Rachel explains.
She went to Washington, D.C. in May and auditioned where she was asked to take another test and had an interview with a producer. At the end of July in 2009, Rachel received a call asking that she come out to California to appear on the show.
"Of course you know we were all going nuts, screaming and just carrying on," says Rachel.
In the second week of August 2009 she flew to Los Angeles with her mother and some friends to tape the show. That left her just over a week to prepare.
It wasn’t the subjects you might expect that Rachel worried about. "My father was really concerned that there was going to be a category about college football, which I don't know a lot about, so he made me memorize the mascots of the major college teams in the U.S. and I read a lot of Sports Illustrated," Rachel recalls.
"I also read to keep up on what’s going on in the entertainment world," she says. "I read People magazine and different celebrity magazines. People would always say, 'Are you studying? Are you reading the encyclopedia,' and I'd tell them 'Well, I'm reading People magazine,' but it helped when it came time to play the game because there were a lot of questions on celebrities and television."
Rachel was hoping some of her favorite subjects like American history or English literature would appear on the board, too, and was not disappointed. The Teen Tournament is set up to be a survey of what the average American teenager might know, just on a slightly deeper level. For example, Rothenberg says questions dealt with different Supreme Court decisions or certain aspects of Shakespeare.
"I was glad that those actually showed up a lot because that's what I really thought I was strongest in," says Rachel.
Neither the questions nor the other competitors intimidated her. Rachel says she and the other teens got along well and treated it as a fun game that they could play together while they’d get to be on TV.
"I wasn't really intimidated, just nervous because I knew it was going out to people all over the country and I didn't want to embarrass myself," says Rachel. "I’m pretty shy in everyday life so to go on and be peppy and let thousands of people see me, that was sort of a daunting task."
She also notes that operating the contestants' buzzer was a challenge. Rachel practiced with a ballpoint pen before her appearance but still found ringing in to answer to be difficult.
"What most people at home don't see is that around the board where the clues are there are lights and you're not allowed to ring in until the lights go on when Alex Trebek is finished reading the question," she explains. "If you ring in before that you are locked out for half a second which doesn't seem like a lot but in the game it's forever. If you're trigger happy like I was in my first game it's difficult."
The final question that gave Rachel the overall win was in the category of "Historic Speeches": Who gave a speech that included the quote "We look forward to a world with freedom from want, freedom from fear, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion."
She arrived at the answer by a bit of a roundabout route, remembering four Norman Rockwell paintings that hung in her elementary school art classroom depicting the four freedoms.
"Immediately I thought is has to be a president because it just sounded very presidential to me," she says. She reasoned that Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president when Rockwell made the paintings and so she wrote FDR as her answer.
"I think you can see the realization on my face — when Alex says the speech was made by a U.S. president many years ago during a great time of crisis in American history — that says 'Oh yes, it's FDR!'" Rachel says. "I honestly didn't think I was going to win so I was just dazed. It was fun."
Rachel's win did not go unnoticed by those she met this past summer at the General Assembly.
"I was very impressed with all the Young Adult Advisory Delegates at General Assembly, with their energy, their intelligence, and their commitment," says Cynthia Bolbach, moderator of the 219th General Assembly. "All of that was exemplified by Rachel's victory in the Jeopardy Teen Tournament."
While most teens, Rachel included, choose to use the money toward their college fund, it is not given as a scholarship and can be used for anything.
"A significant chunk of the money went into my college fund, but I also gave some of it to my church in Pittsburgh, Sixth Presbyterian Church, and I gave part of it to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank," she says. "I have maybe a thousand dollars left for myself at the end of it just to buy gifts for people and have some spending money during college."
"I think it's interesting what Rachel was able to do and I also think it's interesting that she gived some of her winnings to her church," says Bolbach.
Toni Montgomery is a free-lance writer and First Presbyterian Church's church secretary in Statesville, NC. She is a frequent contributor to Presbyterian News Service.