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Posted on Fri, Nov 6, 2009 : 8:25 p.m.

Saline High School student Hema Karunakaram matches wits on "Jeopardy!" Teen Tournament

By Chrysta Cherrie


Hema-Karunakaram heads to the "Jeopardy!" stage. The Saline High School student appeared on "Jeopardy!" this Friday during the show's 2009 Teen Tournament.

Saline High School student Hema Karunakaram, 16, competed in the "Jeopardy!" 2009 Teen Tournament this Friday. A member of the Saline Varsity Quiz Bowl team and a National Merit Semifinalist, she put her experience and knowledge to the test against two other young hopefuls, Gabe Orlet of Lincolnshire, Illinois and Stephanie Radke of McLean, Virginia.

During the first round, Karunakaram performed best in the "World's Oceans" category, most notably when she uncovered and identified the correct question for the Daily Double. This feature in "Jeopardy!" invites contestants to wager as much or little of their score on the clue. By the end of the round, Orlet took the lead by a $2,000 margin, with a similar disparity between Karunakaram and third-place Radke.

Also in the first round, as the contestants introduced themselves to host Alex Trebek, Karunakaram shared an interesting story about her experience at the 2009 Michigan Statistics Poster Competition, in which her "Did Mark Twain Really Know English?" submission took first place.

In the second round Karunakaram was a bit of a dark horse, until the "Pop Topper" category, in which contestants were challenged to identify the musical artist who corresponded with the clue provided. The Saline High School student almost swept the category, correctly responding in rapid-fire succession to four of the five clues. By the end of round two, Orlet led with about $18,000, with Karunakaram in second place near $10,000 and Radke in third place at around $5,000.

With Orlet's healthy lead over Karunakaram, she needed a bold wager and the correct answer to win. The clue, in the "State Capitals" category, asked the hopefuls to name the only U.S. state capital with a three-word name. Radke responded incorrectly, taking her out of the running. But Karunakaram was correct ("Salt Lake City") and wagered enough to surpass Orlet's score by just one dollar. Orlet, on the other hand, didn't come up with a response in time, and having wagered more than one dollar, ended in second place.

The "Jeopardy!" 2009 Teen Tournament started on Monday and continues through next Friday, November 13. Having successfully completed the quarterfinals, Karunakaram advances to the semifinals along with the other four winners this week, plus the four contestants who earned the most money. Then, the three semifinal winners proceed to a two-game finals match.

Each semifinalist is guaranteed a minimum prize of $10,000. Ultimately, a $75,000 cash prize goes to the winner, with $25,000 and $15,000 awards for the second and third place finishers, respectively.

How would Hema Karunakaram like to spend some of her winnings? According to her video interview on the "Jeopardy!" web site, buying shoes.

For more details, visit the "Jeopardy!" Teen Tournament web site.

Chrysta Cherrie is the entertainment producer/copy editor for Reach her at or 734-623-2526, and follow her on Twitter @chrystacherrie.


Patrick Haggood

Sun, Nov 8, 2009 : 12:05 a.m.

Awesome job, kid! Go for it! (Tho I do expect your parents have earmarked a great deal of your potential 'shoe money' to a college fund :-)