Vichit-Vadakan used her love of trivia and job skills to become a game show champion
Story by Abe Proctor. Photos by James Hill and Jeopardy! Productions, Inc. | 24 comments
Veronica Vichit-Vadakan’s skills as a reference librarian at Portland Community College have transcended the school to the world of television and beyond.
In January of 2020, Vichit-Vadakan used those talents to compete on the popular game show Jeopardy!, winning on four of the five episodes in which she competed, coming away with more than $90,000 in prize money. This was enough to qualify her for the show’s Tournament of Champions in May of 2021 where, after two weeks of games against other top-ranked winners, she earned a spot in the finals and won another $50,000.
“It’s the ideal job for getting on Jeopardy! and doing well,” Vichit-Vadakan said. “I would watch it every night growing up. It was the perfect show for a nerdy kid who likes game shows.”
Over the years, she discovered that her love of trivia and her job as a librarian formed a sort of virtuous circle. Before PCC, Vichit-Vadakan worked as a librarian at the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine, a small graduate school of acupuncture and Chinese medicine, and also at the library at Washington State University campus in Vancouver, Wash. In between, she served as theater staff and archivist for the Northwest Film Center.
“You never know what random question people will ask you,” said Vichit-Vadakan, who earned a bachelor’s degree in History from Reed College and a master’s in Library and Information Science from the University of Washington. “Students are struggling across all different disciplines to find the information they need, and it can be really helpful as a librarian to have a lot of facts at hand to help them out.”
Vichit-Vadakan almost never got to PCC. She had been looking for full-time reference librarian work before the COVID-19 pandemic started and applied for the PCC position back in December of 2019.
“I wound up having my second interview with PCC – in-person and on-campus – just a few days before all the campuses closed due to the pandemic,” she said. “It was lucky I did or else wouldn’t have gotten to go inside the library at all before I started working.”
The road to Jeopardy! was a bit of happenstance. A couple of years ago, a friend took the online Jeopardy! test to appear on the show, and encouraged her to do the same. Vichit-Vadakan took the test, and was called in for an audition. She impressed and returned to compete on the show, winning enough episodes to qualify for the Tournament of Champions.
Her stint competing on the show came during a time of great uncertainty for Jeopardy! The show’s iconic host, Alex Trebek, had recently passed away after a long illness, and it was unclear whether the tournament would go forward as planned, but eventually proceeded.
The format featured five games of three players each in the tournament’s quarterfinal round, with the five winners advancing to the semifinals, along with the next four highest-scoring players. Vichit-Vadakan was among the four runners-up — “I got a wild-card spot,” she explained.
She entered the semifinals — three games of three players each — as an underdog with nothing to lose. But, thanks perhaps to her training and experience as a reference librarian, she won her semifinal game, made it to the final and finished third.
“All things considered, I’m very happy,” she said. “I always say that the best preparation for doing well in trivia is to have an open and curious mind and just be interested and engaged in the world around you. I love travel, cooking, camping, gardening, films, music, languages, art, and, of course, books – all of which have come up in trivia questions in one way or another. I love to expose myself to new information and situations not because I’m trying to be better at trivia questions, but just because it’s my personality to seek and learn.”