Teen 'Jeopardy!' champion overcomes internet bullying to win $100,000 grand prize
Claire Sattler sat with anxious friends and family watching the final episode of the "Jeopardy!" Teen Tournament in November.
By then, she already had the prize check. She just couldn't tell them that.
The episodes filmed in August. Only four others knew of her win and had to sit quiet – like her – for months.
The cheers that filled the room when it became clear they were sitting with the champion were the final step of Claire’s long journey.
But some Twitter users’ jeers and anger got to the 17-year-old senior from Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers, Florida.
“I was more nervous about the internet’s reaction,” she said. “Twitter decided it didn’t like me very much.”
Social media users decided a few personality traits were enough to send angry messages at the young competitor.
“Twitter very much decided I was the villain of the finals for some reason other than the fact that I talk a lot,” Claire said. “But people moved on to their next fixation. I don’t really think about it now.”
Her father, Steve Sattler, said the bouts of internet bullying bothered his daughter, but she learned from the hate.
“She got fooled by some people,” he said. “It really bothered her. I said, ‘You don’t need affirmation from a person who has nothing else do to than watch teen kids on a game show and make fun of them.’ It’s a good lesson – if you do something in the world, you’ve got to be ready for it.”
Teen 'Jeopardy!' competition
Claire didn’t study encyclopedias and dictionaries for weeks on end. Instead, she thanks her "Jeopardy!" strategy – answer questions only when you know you are correct.
"You’re trying to figure out if it’s worth buzzing in for an answer you think is 80 percent right,” she said. “There were a few questions that I was 99.9 percent sure was the answer, but I didn’t buzz in.”
The strategy paid off, as she took a strong lead over her opponents in the final rounds. She ended with $38,200, twice as much as her closest opponent.
A strict schedule kept the Sattler family from having a real vacation. Their only free day was spent at Universal Studios in Hollywood.
Tuesday and Wednesday were spent in a studio where contestants produced show after show with a few outfit changes in between. Claire would be back in school on Friday.
Claire’s parents watched every show from the audience, tensely waiting for their daughter’s turn. The "Jeopardy!" officials never said who is competing in the next quarterfinal match.
“That first day was the most stressful,” Steve said. “We’d never seen her perform. We didn’t know what to expect.”
Claire passed the first day, going to Wednesday’s semifinal and final matches.
“The second day was much easier,” Steve said. “She had met her goal.”
The grand prize
On the show, Claire said the money would go toward college.
She wasn’t lying. After taxes, the final check will be about $65,000. For some of Claire’s top college picks, every penny might head to tuition.
“I’d love to go to Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but I’m also looking at Columbia College, Georgia Institute of Technology and staying here in (Florida),” Claire said.
Without scholarships, one year’s tuition and board could take most of her winnings. But she’s hoping for some financial aid thanks to her good grades and high test scores.
The school's Science, Technology, Engineering and Math team inspired Claire toward a biomedical engineering degree.
Before that, Claire said, she plans to finish her senior year with an exclamation mark.