CHEVY CHASE – Want to make Sophia Weng happy? Just give the Montgomery Blair High School rising senior a buzzer.
When asked what activities she is involved in at her school in Silver Spring, where she participates in the magnet program, the 17-year-old answered without hesitation, “I do every single academic [club] that requires a buzzer.”
Weng is a member of the successful Quiz Bowl and It’s Academic teams. She also has competed in the science, oceans and history bowls, she said.
“I like knowing things. I like winning competitions. I love the buzzing. It’s really exhilarating.”
On June 19, she took her skills to yet another level. Out of the thousands of students who took an online test to become a Jeopardy Teen Tournament contestant, only 250 were chosen to audition. Of those 250 teens, Weng is one of only 15 who made it onto the nationally televised competition.
She finished in second place, winning $13,600 on the show. While Weng loss to Justin Bolsen of Canton, Georgia, who finished with $25,342, she has a “wild card” spot that would earn her a second appearance.
While she remained perfectly mum on how she fared in the tournament, as she is required to do, Weng chatted happily away about the experience, which was taped in December 2018.
She took the qualifying test with a few friends, thought that they all did “quite well,” Weng said.
“Then I was lucky enough to be invited for an audition” at a hotel in Washington, D.C., said Weng.
When she is not thinking about answers to questions, the Blair High School student plays trumpet and writes crossword puzzles for her school newspaper. She is the oldest of five children and has lived in Chevy Chase since her family moved there when she was four years old.
All of her success came as no surprise to Blair teacher Erik Lodal. He described Weng as “a highly motivated student and classroom leader who is very good at a wide variety of topics.”
“Weng spends a lot of time studying for academic competitions and is one of the strongest players we’ve had at Montgomery Blair,” Lodal said. “She excels at science and literature but has a solid foundation in pretty much every topic.”
Lodal knows Weng very well as he is currently her earth science teacher and runs the high school’s successful Academic Quiz show program. He called Weng an “all-around star in academic life and the competitions she chooses to participate in outside of school hours.”
Before her audition to get on the show, Weng took a written test at the hotel and played mini-Jeopardy games against the other auditioners. Despite the growing competition, the Blair student said, “I wasn’t nervous.”
At the time, Weng told herself, “I’m just here, and I’m going to make the best of it and have fun.”
Once learning she would be a contestant, Weng began to practice. She watched several episodes of Jeopardy, tried to listen to the cadence of show’s host Alex Trebek and used a pencil to practice buzzing in.
“The buzzer is the hard part. In the Teen Tournament, the questions aren’t too hard,” she said.
While the answers are being read aloud by Trebek, contestants’ buzzers are locked out until a light comes on to correctly state the question. If contestants buzz in too soon, they are locked out for a fraction of a second, but that short time is enough to guarantee someone else will ring in first, Weng said.
During the taping, her nerves did kick in, she admitted. “I wasn’t that nervous until I was on stage and the cameras started rolling.” But her appearances on It’s Academic, which also is filmed for television, helped her calm her nerves, the Silver Spring teenager said.
She did have much contact with Trebek, noting, “I was surprised how little time Alex was out for.” He even leaves the stage during commercial breaks, according to Weng. Instead, Trebek mostly interacts with the audience and is with the contestants only during the actual taping, she said.
While the Teen Tournament will be on television screens for two weeks, it only required two days of taping.
Since appearing in the tournament, Weng has grown close with some of the other contestants, often spending time in group chats and doing puzzles, she said, noting, “I am in contact with so many of the people.”
Now that school is over, Weng plans to work on her college-admission essays. Ideally, she would like to find a career that combines her love for political science and statistics. This summer, she will work on a research project with Johns Hopkins Medical Institution involving statistics. She mostly will work from home in that volunteer position.
Later in the summer, she will participate in U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin’s Democracy Summer Program, which brings together young people to “bring about sweeping political change and advance social and economic justice in America by educating, training and deploying the next generation of organizers,” according to the program’s web site.
Through Johns Hopkins and Democracy Summer, “I’m really covering my bases here, political science and statistics,” Weng said.