There are plenty of hypotheticals as to how he operates. Perhaps his ginger afro masks a misshapen skull that houses extra brain matter in a Jimmy Neutron-esque manner. Or maybe his onstage swagger fuels his confidence and, subsequently, his answers.
One thing is for sure. Northwestern freshman Beni Keown has taken the “Jeopardy!” world by storm.
He is intelligent, unbelievably so. He likes to keep his brain engaged by playing chess and doing crosswords. He is a huge fan of Don Quixote. He likes playing golf. He is majoring in mechanical engineering. He is now Twitter famous after creating his account less than a week ago.
How in the hell did he get here? To find out, we spoke with America’s newest sweetheart, the Sultan of Swag, the Ginger God, the man himself.
The “Jeopardy!” Process
Getting on the show can be a grueling process, but for Keown it was easier than most.
He began with an online test in October, which is available for any and all to take here (fair warning, I gave up after 12 questions. It’s hard).
Keown scored highly enough on the college version of said test to receive an invite to an in-person audition in St. Louis.
“[The audition] is more about checking if you’re ‘TV worthy,’” Keown said. “How you can talk about yourself, whether you’re confident and poised when selecting and answering categories, things like that.”
His audition results were delivered by phone in mid-January. The Evanston native let two of the calls go to voicemail, as they came from an unfamiliar number. When he listened to the message, he called back immediately.
“I was very surprised,” Keown said. “I thought that there were other Northwestern people that were more outgoing than I was or answered questions they asked better. I really didn’t expect anything.”
Just like that, he went from taking an online “Jeopardy!” test to representing Northwestern in the the fabled game’s College Championship. Amazing stuff.
Keown’s first round, a quarterfinal matchup versus Joe Coker of Hendrix College and Xiaoke Ying of the University of Southern California, aired Thursday on ABC. While he didn’t win, he managed to garner enough cash to secure a wild card spot in the next round.
“I think I did fairly well,” Keown said of his first round performance. “Going into it, I had done research for where the cutoffs normally were for moving on as a wildcard, and I told myself I was shooting for $15,000.”
Reaching that mark meant that he had about an 80 percent chance of earning a wild card, according to Keown. To earn a wild card, he had to have one of four highest scores that wasn’t a matchup winner.
His math was unsurprisingly correct. And he accomplished that. While Coker won the Thursday matchup with a total of $30,200, both Keown and Ying advanced as wild cards.
Along with a strong performance in the quarterfinals, Keown managed to launch himself into the Twitter world, with most tweets about him centering on his nonchalant answers and vibrant orange afro.
Keown didn’t even have a Twitter account a week ago.
“I had been meaning to make a Twitter for a while,” Keown said. “But seeing all the reactions from other people was what galvanized me to make it. I didn’t want to miss out on any of the action during my game.”
Throughout his performance, celebrities like Pat McAfee took to Twitter to praise the NU freshman and his mane.
“It was really weird,” Keown said of McAfee’s tweet. “I knew that I would get some press, because I had been following the Twitterverse during other games and people had been tweeting, but it was mostly people who had always watched ‘Jeopardy!’ giving their armchair opinions on the contestants.”
Keown added that he had known who McAfee was for a long time, and even wrote his own tweet in response.
Not done yet
As mentioned previously, Keown’s quiz show journey continues in the semifinals. Nine semifinalists will vie for three spots in the contest’s finals.
In the semifinals, Keown will take on Kayla Kalhor from the University of Florida and Tyler Combs from Indiana University. Combs won his matchup with $28,400, and Kalhor advanced as a wild card with $16,501.
At this point, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.
The semis will air Monday, April 13 at 3:30 pm CT for Chicagoland area viewers. Please check your local listings if you don’t live in Chicago as airing times and channels vary throughout the country.
“Monday, same time, same place.”