Date February 23, 2023
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Brown student reunites with former competitors in ‘Jeopardy!’ tournament

First-year student Justin Bolsen won his quarter- and semifinal rounds of the ‘Jeopardy! High School Reunion’ tournament, landing him a spot in the finals, airing March 8.

[Editor’s note: The original version of this story was published before Bolsen’s initial episode aired on Feb. 23. He will advance to the final round in an episode airing Wednesday, March 8.]

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Answer: This Canton, Georgia native, who first appeared on the “Jeopardy!” stage four years ago as a high school freshman, will compete again Feb. 23 in the iconic trivia show’s high school reunion tournament.

Question: Who is Brown University first-year student Justin Bolsen?

The economics and international and public affairs double-concentrator and 26 other former contestants of the “Jeopardy!” Teen Tournament, which aired four seasons ago, were invited back to Los Angeles to compete in the show’s first-ever high school reunion tournament. The special event runs Feb. 20 through March 9, and the winner will walk away with a $100,000 grand prize and a guaranteed spot in the “Jeopardy!” Tournament of Champions.

In the fourth round of the quarterfinals, Bolsen will go head-to-head with first-year American University student Teagan O’Sullivan and Harvard University sophomore Shriya Yarlagadda.

It’s a matchup unlike any other — because they’re all friends.

After their original episodes aired four years ago, the contestants stayed in touch. They bonded and cultivated close friendships, and even started a group chat — which, Bolsen said, blew up after they all received the invitation to return to the show — that’s been active for years.

“It’s nice to have someone you know well that you’re competing against, because it makes the environment a little bit more calm, like you’re just pals playing a friendly game,” Bolsen said, adding that going up against a friend does present a bit of a catch-22. “It’s not like I want to beat, or lose to, someone I know very well, but it certainly helps ease tensions between competitors.”

Being a “Jeopardy!” alumnus also didn’t hurt. After his first appearance four years ago, during which Bolsen said he was shaking with nerves, the anxiety of not knowing what to expect dissipated.

“ People are so willing to help each other ... Collaboration is so prevalent [at Brown]. Even when I was studying trivia to prepare, I had so many friends who would help me practice, run questions or just sit down and do crossword puzzles with me. ”

Justin Bolsen Class of 2026

“That experience taught me that it’s OK to mess up and it’s normal to make mistakes,” he said. “This time, I went in with the mindset that I’m going to go and have fun, and if I lose, I lose.”

Trivia has long been a part of Bolsen’s life. In middle school, he was part of an academic Quiz Bowl team with a reputation for competitiveness; during Bolsen’s time on the team, it advanced to nationals each year. The team also practiced five days a week in the early hours before school started.

“I was 11 years old, and my poor dad was waking up at 6 a.m. to drive me to Quiz Bowl practice each day,” Bolsen said with a laugh.

Though he’s much older and no longer needs those early morning rides, Bolsen said not much has changed.  As a member of the Brown Quizbowl, Bolsen said he’s found the support and enthusiasm of his peers and fellow teammates invaluable.

“People are so willing to help each other,” he said. “Even when I was studying trivia to prepare [for the ‘Jeopardy!’ Tournament], I had so many friends who would help me practice, run questions or just sit down and do crossword puzzles with me.”

In fact, that’s the quality that drew Bolsen to Brown in the first place.

“Collaboration is so prevalent here,” he said. “Everyone is really dedicated to helping set each other up for success, and I really love that aspect of the environment at the University.”

And, ever the trivia buff, Bolsen is already taking full advantage of Brown’s Open Curriculum; although his focus is on economics and international and public affairs, he’s enrolled in a planetary geology class this semester.

“It is totally unrelated to my concentrations, but I’m learning so much,” he said. “It has so many cool facts about astronomy and geology. And the history classes I’ve taken here are very helpful for putting things into context and providing new trivia tidbits that — who knows — might even help you on ‘Jeopardy!’.”

Whether those tidbits will come into play to help Bolsen secure a spot in the semifinals is something viewers will have to see for themselves. His quarterfinals episode airs on ABC on Thursday, Feb. 23 at 7 p.m. Eastern Time.