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Woman with local ties to be on Jeopardy! Friday night

Kay Thanaporn, daughter of Dr. Prasit and Bunleng Thanaporn of Halifax, will appear on the quiz show Jeopardy! Friday night.

Thanaporn, currently residing and working as a health care consultant in Decatur, Georgia, grew up in Halifax County. After graduating from the University of Virginia with a BA in English literature, she moved to Atlanta and later got her masters in business administration and public health at Emory University. 

Despite living in Georgia, Thanaporn still considers herself a Virginian and often visits Virginia to see her parents and attend UVA football games. 

Jeopardy! served as a way for Thanaporn to train for Halifax County High School’s Academic Competition for Excellence (ACE) team when she was younger.

 “I’d do my homework while it was on TV in the background,” Thanaporn said. “Now it’s come full circle:  my experience with ACE team (captain of the English team and MVP senior year) helped me land a spot on Jeopardy!.” 

Friends and family had always encouraged Thanaporn to audition for Jeopardy!, especially her mother, Bunleng Thanaporn, who said she and her husband are looking forward to seeing their daughter on TV Friday night. 

Thanaporn’s path to becoming a contestant was a long one, requiring a lot of luck and patience. Each January, Jeopardy! offers an online test to prospective contestants, so, in 2013, Thanporn and her boyfriend decided to give it a shot.

 “I must have done okay because in April, I received an email inviting me to audition in person…” Thanaporn said.

That May, Thanaporn and a friend, who also had been invited to audition, drove up to Nashville for the tryout, which consisted of a 50-question written test, a mock game and an interview. At the tryout, Thanaporn was informed the contestants’ names are put into the contestant pool for 18 months, after which if they were not selected, they could try out again.  

“About 100,000 people take the online test,” Thanaporn explained. “Of the people who score over a certain threshold, about 2,000 to 3,000 are randomly invited to the in-person audition round. Then maybe 400 eventually make it onto the show itself in a season.”

She said this year it was especially competitive because of the show’s 30th anniversary and the “Battle of the Decades” tournament that featured past champions.

“When I got a phone call in February (2014) asking me to come to Los Angeles in March for a chance to be on the show, I was shocked because I never expected to hear from them…” Thanaporn said. 

Her favorite parts of being on the show were getting to see the inner workings of the program and meeting her fellow contestants.

“And the contestant coordinators are remarkable,” she said, “They know how to encourage and bring out the best in a group of 12 nervous people while simultaneously ensuring nobody freaks out.”  

To watch the episode and cheer her on, tune in to the local CBS station at 7:30 p.m. Friday to see Thanaporn take on her opponents on the syndicated gameshow Jeopardy!.