LAHS alum shares experiences from 'Jeopardy!'

Laurel Lathrop” width=
Courtesy of Laurel Lathrop
Los Altos native Laurel Lathrop poses with Alex Trebek, famed host of the long-running game show “Jeopardy!”

Category: Local Trivia

Answer: Laurel Lathrop

Question: Who was the Los Altos native who recently appeared on the game show “Jeopardy!”?

Lathrop not only appeared on “Jeopardy!” – she won two nights in a row and amassed $65,002 (before taxes, of course).

Although Lathrop’s episodes aired Sept. 27, 30 and Oct. 1, they were filmed over the summer. With her sister Ellen and their parents Jennifer and John in tow, Lathrop flew to Los Angeles to film the shows Aug. 6 and 7.

That meant the family had to keep the results a secret for more than a month. Jennifer said it was “excruciating” keeping her daughter’s success a secret, and she only felt comfortable telling people to watch the episodes when they aired.

Community support

Los Altos resident Keiko Hayashi, who attends Foothills Congregational Church with the Lathrop family, organized a viewing party at the church Sept. 27 so that local residents could root Lathrop on. A crowd of approximately 45 people attended the party, at which Jennifer and John talked about the process of auditioning, filming and answered questions.

“They mentioned that Alex Trebek was very engaging and he was truly a real representative of what you think ‘Jeopardy!’ is,” Hayashi said. “He actually connected with each of the contestants. Not only them, but the parents in the audience and then during the commercial breaks, too.”

After the Lathrops spoke, party organizers set up a large television screen to watch the show. The boisterous crowd enjoyed food and drinks while watching.

“To hear everyone cheering and clapping for (my) daughter was amazing,” Jennifer said. “Since Laurel grew up in this church family, everyone felt like she belonged to them, too, which she does.”

While her community back home was screaming out answers, Lathrop celebrated her appearance with her friends in Tallahassee, Fla., where she attends Florida State University.

“Everybody was cheering for me and humorously booing the other contestants,” she said. “I told them everybody’s really nice, but they were just treating it like a sporting game where you cheer for your team and you boo the opponent. And then when I won, everybody completely lost their minds.”

Although the environment was energizing, the Los Altos High School graduate said she found it hard to watch herself because she remembered every question she got wrong or hesitated to buzz in on. But she said having her friends there and so excited for her helped with the nerves of watching herself on television.

Despite Lathrop’s critiques of her performance, others found her to be calm, composed and graceful during her “Jeopardy!” run.

“She did something I could never do – and with such poise,” Jennifer said. “When she won the first time, her sister and I both got tearful between the stress of the contest and our happiness. She was in another room being debriefed but said one of her fellow contestants went in and told her, ‘Your whole family is bawling.’ Laurel said she felt really touched and also amused by our reaction. Her father, on the other hand, had a huge smile that simply didn’t go away.”

That wasn’t the only person Lathrop made smile.

After her appearance and success on the show, she started getting recognized in random places – like a diner she was having breakfast at recently. The owner recognized her and brought her mother, a fan of the show, to meet Lathrop.

“It’s a pretty comfortable level of quote-unquote celebrity,” Lathrop said. “Maybe four people in total have recognized me, and that’s totally fine.”

Application process

Lathrop’s journey to celebrity status began with completing a “Jeopardy!” online test more than a year earlier. Lathrop, who is pursuing a doctorate in creative writing at FSU, has a passion for reading and writing and thought that could prove useful on a game show like “Jeopardy!”

“I love learning facts about the world, whether or not they are things that I am trying to learn for a class,” she said. “Things that jump out at me as being cool or unusual or interesting, they just kind of launched in my mind. I think it’s a practical sense, but it’s good for being a writer because you never know when one of these strange facts will come in handy.”

Months after taking the test, Lathrop received a phone call inviting her to Savannah, Ga., for an in-person audition. A successful audition later, she traveled to California to participate in the taping.

“The set is really big and shiny, just like it looks on TV, and there’s also a studio audience,” she said. “It was a really cool experience because I’ve never been on TV before.”

Not only was she on TV, but she has more than $60,000 to show for it.

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