Local teen's 'Jeopardy!' win was no trivial feat
The wonderful thing about game shows such as "Jeopardy!," and reality TV shows, is the action already has taken place in real time, and it's up to contestants such as Avi Gupta to work really hard to conceal any results.
It's not easy, says Gupta, the Portland teenager who recently won the "Jeopardy!" Teen Tournament and pocketed $100,000.
Filming took place in December 2018, and the episodes aired in late June.
"That was a long delay," said Gupta, 17. "You can't say anything about the results." Many times, Gupta had to fend off inquiries from fellow Catlin Gabel School students.
"They knew I had been on 'Jeopardy!' and they spent six months trying to figure out results. Everyone asked me, 'How'd you do? How many games were taped? What was it like when the semifinals and finals were taping?' And, I'd say, 'I don't know, was I on the taping?'" Gupta recalled. "They enjoyed watching. They were very supportive. They were very proud."
Gupta, a Catlin Gabel grad who'll head to Columbia University in New York City to study computer science, has been basking in his newfound fame, but he also enjoys public and media attention because it allows him to promote causes.
The son of cardiologists, Gupta founded Project32 three years ago to provide dental hygiene products — toothbrushes, toothpaste — to children living in poverty around the world. He recently has worked with the Knight Cancer Institute at Oregon Health & Science University to raise awareness about the battle against pancreatic cancer, which afflicts "Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebek.
Winning the money was nice, Gupta said, but earning the platform has been more important.
"I truly believe our scientists and researchers are winning the battle at OHSU and elsewhere," said Gupta, who recently donated $314 to the Knight Cancer Institute from another of his projects, teaching chess lessons. "But we need to help them do more, especially with early detection."
As far as Project32, he'll continue to work to distribute dental hygiene products even after moving to attend Columbia. He has a chapter set up there. He has also enlisted Catlin Gabel students to continue the local chapter.
Gupta emphasizes the power of health education, especially dental health. In establishing the nonprofit, Gupta had read an article in the Indian press about 50 kids sharing one toothbrush in a group home.
"It was horrible," said Gupta, who was born in Salt Lake City to parents who immigrated from India.
Gupta recruited Portland-area dentists to donate products. Later, in 2016, he ventured to India with his family, bringing products with him, and formed a relationship with the country's high court.
At a public event, Gupta gave away hundreds of hygiene products at an orphanage.
"It's less about the product packages, and more on education," he said. "If you teach a child about how to take care of themselves and why it's important, it not only persists with them, but they can pass it on to family and community. It creates a ripple effect."
Gupta also made a school trip to the Guatemalan village of Chajul and distributed about 2,000 toothbrushes.
"The impact made was immeasurable," he said.
Beyond activism, Gupta lives a robust life. He enjoys reading — hence his knowledge to succeed on "Jeopardy!" — and playing basketball, tennis and chess. He led a delegation to Equatorial Guinea to help establish a chess federation. He participated in mock trials and the Science Bowl at Catlin Gabel.
At Columbia, Gupta will study computer science in the engineering school, with an emphasis on artificial intelligence, and possibly minor in economics.
He'll always be able to reflect on his stupendous "Jeopardy!" Teen Tournament run. It included a dramatic semifinal win, in which he won a tiebreaker with Jackson Jones of Louisville, Ky.
After the "Final Jeopardy" question left them tied, they took one more tiebreaking clue: "Types of it you could find in Boston Harbor on Dec. 16, 1773, included Souchong and Bohea."
Gupta beat Jones to the answer button, and said, "What is tea?"
"Tea is right, and you are a finalist," Trebek responded. "What a finish."
Gupta faced junior Lucas Miner of Miami and eighth-grader Ryan Presler of Sioux Falls, S.D., in the finals. He burst out to a huge lead in the first game of the two-night finale, and then held off a surging Presler on the second night to win it all.
Gupta won $50,800 in the game to Presler's $42,401 and Miner's $24,000; but all the finalists won real money in the form of $100,000 for Gupta, $50,000 for Presler and $25,000 for Miner.
Gupta watched the finale as part of his Catlin Gabel graduation party at his family's home on Friday, June 28. He also saw his Instagram account go up by several hundred followers, and he received scores of phone calls, texts and Snapchats.
"It was great to see community support from around the country and world," he said.
Gupta succeeded in many categories, two of them being "The 1600s" and "Business Pairs."
Gupta doesn't know how to explain his knowledge, other than that he reads a lot, watches relevant videos and learns from the Internet, and retains facts, trivial or not. Somebody mentioned apples to him once, and Gupta had to cite information about Washington being one of the country's — and world's — top producers of apples.
"I was always a very naturally inquisitive kid, and enjoyed reading and asking questions about the world and people around me," he said, "which sometimes annoyed family and teachers. They were patient with me.
"I definitely don't have a perfect memory, or a photographic memory," Gupta added. "I'm naturally interested in a lot of different things, and that helps."
In one "Jeopardy!" quarterfinal category, called "Rhyme Time," he took clues to two different words that rhyme with each other. "The correct plane trip" was one of the clues; "the right flight" was the answer. "Mistake caused by Gandalf's walking stick" was another; "a staff gaffe" the answer.
"That was pretty amusing," Gupta said. "Enjoyed that one."
Gupta especially enjoyed winning "Jeopardy!" because he shared a common love for the game with his grandmother from India. He's proud of his Indian heritage.
"I know it's a culture that promotes acquisition of knowledge and learning," he said.
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