North Central student reaches Jeopardy! teen semifinals

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An Indianapolis student is advancing to the Jeopardy! Teen Tournament semifinals.

Sam Lerner, a student at North Central High School, finished third on Friday's show, but finished with a high enough total to advance to the semifinals with eight other contestants. Lerner is a member of North Central's "Brain Game" team and has competed in that tournament on Channel 13.

He was second after the first round of Friday night's game, but fell to third after Double Jeopardy. He correctly answered the Final Jeopardy question and his total of $20,000 was enough to advance.

His semifinal game airs Wednesday, July 30 on Channel 13.

Sam, 16, joined Eyewitness News at Noon on Thursday to talk about how he made it onto the show.

He explained that he took an online test on Jeopardy's website. "If you get a certain amount of those questions correct, then they invite you to a live audition. I achieved that this year. I was invited to Kansas City," he said.

After that, there's another test, a mock game and an evaluation. "If they like you, they invite you to Los Angeles to film," said Sam, making it sound easy.

The program which airs Friday night was taped in March. "It was quite a while ago," Sam said.

He described the experience of being on the show as "kind of surreal. I know that's a little cliché. But I've been watching Jeopardy for years and I've always thought 'I should be on the show,' because I get a lot of the questions at home and then I'm finally there and I meet Alex Trebek and I get to see the making of the shows. It was really cool."

Of course, watching along at home is an entirely different experience from the challenges of appearing on the show.

"At home you answer all the questions and think, 'I'm gonna crush everyone there,' but these people are obviously just as smart if not smarter than me. And also, you've got all the lights and you've got the whole aspect of being on national TV which is nerve-wracking," said Sam.

One of the biggest challenges was the buzzer.

"You have to buzz in after the question is finished being read. So it's fairly difficult to get that down. You might know a lot of the questions but you don't get a chance to buzz in," he said.

Sam couldn't reveal how he did ahead of time, but he did leave us with this observation:

"I was surprised at how many people - just like me - all around the country, are trivia freaks."

He watched the show with his family Friday.

Jeopardy! airs weeknights at 7:30 p.m. on WTHR.