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From Quiz Bowl champ to ‘Jeopardy’: State High grad’s love of trivia goes to the next level

From Quiz Bowl to ‘Jeopardy!’: State High grad takes his love of trivia to the next level

Thursday night's episode of "Jeopardy!" will feature State College Area High School grad Aaron Lichtig. Lichtig was a member of State High's national championship-winning Quiz Bowl team in 1998. He now lives in Silver Springs, Md.
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Thursday night's episode of "Jeopardy!" will feature State College Area High School grad Aaron Lichtig. Lichtig was a member of State High's national championship-winning Quiz Bowl team in 1998. He now lives in Silver Springs, Md.

Trivia and quiz games have long been a passion for Aaron Lichtig, ever since his days of competing with Quiz Bowl and Knowledge Masters at State College Area High School. On Thursday, Lichtig’s trivia skills will be tested on national television as his episode of “Jeopardy!” is set to air at 7 p.m.

Lichtig, who now lives with his family in Silver Spring, Maryland, and works as a growth marketer for startup Xometry, Inc., first cultivated his love for trivia as a student at State High in the late 1990s. As a member of the 1998 Quiz Bowl team, Lichtig helped guide State High to two national victories in a month, prompting some coaches to call them the “greatest team they’ve ever seen,” the Centre Daily Times reported back then.

Since graduating from State High in 1998 and going on to college at Yale, then spending some time in China and in several stops across the United States, Lichtig has worked to keep his trivia skills sharp. Having always been a fan of “Jeopardy!” Lichtig has taken the show’s 50-question online test to become a contestant almost every year since it first became available in 2006.

Although he made it to the in-person audition in Washington, D.C. in March, he wasn’t expecting to get the call.

“Coming out of those auditions, they don’t tell you whether you’re in or out,” Lichtig said. “They tell everyone you may get a call sometime in the next 18 months telling you you’re on the show. If you don’t hear from us in 18 months, then you didn’t get on and you’re out of the poll.”

Having made it through the in-person auditions process once before, in 2010, and not making it on the show, Lichtig didn’t have a lot of hope he’d make it this time. Then out of the blue in October, he got a call from Culver City, California.

“It was crazy,” he said. “They tell you to look for a call from Culver City, California, and I don’t know anybody else in Culver City. So when that popped up on my phone, I was at work. It was late in the evening with a couple of my colleagues when the call came through and I said, ‘Oh my goodness, I got to take this call.’ ”

At first, Lichtig said his co-workers were a little freaked out, wondering what happened to make him answer a call so quickly in the middle of work. But when he explained how he might have a chance to be on “Jeopardy!,” everyone was excited.

Lichtig traveled to Sony Pictures Studio to film on Nov. 28.

“It was fun,” Lichtig said. “You get there early in the morning, and there are a dozen or so other contestants. They film a whole week’s worth of shows in one day — five in a row — so people are there for all those shows.”

And of course, Lichtig did get to meet legendary host Alex Trebek, who he said “looks the same as he did when I watched ‘Jeopardy!’ as an 8-year-old in the ‘80s.” The host greets each contestant personally, gets his picture taken with them and answers questions from the studio audience during the breaks.

“Just the idea that it’s not the random pub trivia host asking you questions, it’s actually Alex Trebek — it’s pretty cool,” Lichtig said.

Even though he admitted to having a little bit of nerves, Lichtig said he was able to zone in once the game got started so it was just him, the questions and the buzzer.

Although he wasn’t able to give away how he did, Lichtig did give some insight on what it’s like to be on “Jeopardy!” The game is much faster paced than it looks on TV, the question board is about 30 feet high and the hardest part — the buzzer.

“You’re not allowed to buzz in until he’s finished a clue and they open it up,” Lichtig explained. “It’s a lockout-type of system. If you ring in too early, you get frozen out for a short period of time until the other contestants can ring in ahead of you. Even for the best players, the buzzer is a challenge.”

Lichtig is excited for his episode to air, and so is his family. Although Lichtig will be in Maryland on Thursday, his State College family and friends plan to watch the episode together.

Lichtig’s episode will air at 7 p.m. Thursday on ABC, in the State College market.

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