U-M Student Sarma Rides Smarts and School Pride to Jeopardy! College Championship

He is one of the biggest stars to come out of the University of Minnesota since Kevin McHale. And while McHale, the Hall of Fame Boston Celtics forward, performed his feats of greatness on the famed parquet at the Boston Garden, U-M sophomore Nibir Sarma excelled on a gigantic stage as well.

Sarma captured the Jeopardy! College Championship in an impressive performance in the tournament that had 15 players representing colleges and university from coast to coast.

Sarma received $100,000 and a championship trophy for his scintillating first-place finish on the classic game show led by Alex Trebek, the beloved host, who like the millions watching at home, was captivated by Sarma’s triumph.

In the show following Sarma’s championship-clinching victory, Trebek again noted the 19-year-old’s effort in “blowing away” the competition.

With people staying at home because of COVID-19, Sarma became the viewers’ favorite with his confidence and versatility on the show. Many enjoyed watching a chemical engineering student, representing an unheralded but outstanding midwestern state university, conquer his rivals with a display of a wide knowledge that spanned every Jeopardy! category.

Many felt the turning point in the championship round was Sarma demonstrating his aptitude in the sciences and running the “Poetry And Physicists” category, highlighted by a fearless all-in Double Jeopardy! wager of $8,000 on a question he correctly answered, “Who is Galileo?”

Sarma is the toast of the Gopher State, receiving hundreds of congratulatory messages from U-M students, coaches, athletes, and alumni.

“It’s been an exciting time,” said Sarma. “The past two weeks or so, my social media has blown up. It’s been a really neat experience.”

Sarma attended Eden Prairie High School, which is about a half hour from the U-M campus. He was a standout and captain of the school’s Quiz Bowl team that finished 31st in the nationals.

“Learning in many subjects has sort of been an interest of mine,” said Sarma. “I read a lot as a kid. I’ve always been interested in learning about things.”

Sarma took an online Jeopardy! test in October, 2019. He had his Jeopardy! audition in St. Louis in November and received a call in January that he had been selected as a contestant in the Jeopardy! College Championship which was filmed in February at Sony Picture Studios in Culver City, Calif.

Sarma finished second in the opening round to Indiana senior Tyler Combs but his high total ($18,448) earned him a spot in the next round. “After Tyler absolutely dominated the first round and we both made it back to the final round for a rematch, I guess I had an extra bit of motivation for doing well,: said Sarma.

Competing against Combs and USC sophomore Xiaoke Yang on Day 1 of the finals, Sarma recorded the highest total ($22,195) to win handily.  Rather than sit on his lead on Day 2, Sarma came out firing and pulled away to a commanding victory.

One can only imagine the victory lap that Nibir would have garnered on the U-M campus, had the university been in session at this time. But the autographs, selfie-requests, and recognition ceremonies will come when classes resume in the fall semester.

Sarma does have a connection to the University of Minnesota athletic program. He plays the clarinet in the pep band at U-M ice hockey games. Boston sports fans will no doubt remember that is was Minnesota ice hockey coach Herb Brook and several Gopher players who teamed up with Winthrop’s Mike Eruzione and three other BU players, Jack O’Callahan, Dave Silk, and Jim Craig, to win the gold medal at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid.

Reflecting on his Jeopardy title, Nibir Sarma said he takes considerable pride in being a U-M student and a representative of the university and the state.

“Being that I am a member of the hockey pep band as well as being an admissions ambassador at the University of Minnesota, representing the university is not something that is new to me,” said Sarma. “But certainly this a whole different scale and I have appreciated having everyone in Minnesota behind my back.”

Sarma, whose twitter name is “Jeopardy! Nibir,” will return to the show for the Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions later this year.

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