Florida State University student to appear on Jeopardy! College Championship

Lea Tottle, 20, will appear on this year’s Jeopardy! College Championship tournament Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. on ABC. She will play against 14 other college students for a $100,000 prize.

Jeopardy Productions Inc.

Lea Tottle, 20, will appear on this year’s Jeopardy! College Championship tournament Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. on ABC. She will play against 14 other college students for a $100,000 prize.

She hails from Oldsmar and graduated from Palm Harbor University High School's International Baccalaureate program in 2008.

Now she's a contestant on Jeopardy!

If you answered, "Who is Lea Tottle," give yourself some points.

Then settle down with the family Tuesday night to see how the Florida State University junior fares.

Jeopardy! airs at 7:30 p.m. on WFTS-Ch. 28.

In September, Tottle was in her American history class when she received a "call me — urgent" text message from her mother, Sandy Tottle.

"I thought something must be terribly wrong at home," said the 20-year-old.

Fortunately, that wasn't the case. Tottle's mother told her that she would be competing with 14 other brainiacs in the show's college championship tournament.

"I was so excited," Tottle said. "I was with some friends and we all just jumped around for five minutes screaming our heads off."

Tottle, who is majoring in political science and hopes to be a prosecuting attorney someday, said she grew up watching the game show with her family.

"It was an after-dinner tradition," she said.

Now, as a contestant, she'll have a chance to win a grand prize of $100,000. Second place garners a minimum of $50,000; third place a minimum of $25,000. Semifinalists receive $10,000 and players eliminated in the first week get $5,000.

Getting to this point, however, was a challenge in its own right.

For starters, Tottle was one of more than 16,000 college students who took a 50-question online test back in February. A few thousand of the high-scorers were randomly selected to try out in person.

She was one of the lucky ones and in May, traveled to Chicago on her own dime. Contenders played mock versions of the game and answered questions such as, "What would you do with the money?"

Her answer?

"I'd take a trip to Europe and tour the castles," she said.

In October, Tottle flew to Los Angeles to tape the show.

This time, game show officials paid for her airfare and accommodations, and chipped in $675 for spending money. She was treated to a four-night stay in the Hilton Los Angeles at Universal City, a 24-story hotel located in the Hollywood hilltops.

Her father, David Tottle, said she's dreamed about being on the game show for years.

"Lea's always been a go-getter and she went after this one in a big way," he said. "I'm glad she did. It was an experience of a lifetime."

The morning of the taping, Tottle rose early, put on her college sweatshirt and headed for the lobby, where she and her fellow competitors waited for their ride to Sony Picture Studios.

"It was pretty awkward; we barely spoke at first," she said.

Once there, they were taken to the "green room," where contestants and celebrities typically wait for their appearances on shows.

Turns out, the room wasn't "green" at all.

It was beige and furnished with a long table, chairs and some couches. The students munched on a continental breakfast as the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail played on a flat-screen Sony television.

As they talked among themselves, Tottle learned they all had prepped for the show the same way she did: by watching videos of the show on YouTube and looking up websites with archived questions.

"That's when we realized we were all soul mates," she said.

The students were called out to compete in groups of three, with Tottle in the second group. She is not at liberty to say how she did in the competition.

In the makeup room, she could hear the audience clapping.

"That's when I started to get nervous," she said.

The next thing she knew, she was standing on a hydraulic lift (so contestants appear about the same height) on the set of Jeopardy!

Then, one of TV's most famous personalities, Alex Trebek, walked through a pair of doors and stood about 5 feet in front of her.

She remembered seeing the "applause" light come on and having a final thought:

"Holy crap. What have I gotten myself into?"

Reach Terri Bryce Reeves at treeves@tampabay.rr.com.

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Tune in

Watch Lea Tottle, an Oldsmar native and junior at Florida State University, compete for the $100,000 grand prize in the Jeopardy! College Championship, at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday on WFTS-Ch. 28. The championship continues through Nov. 19.

Florida State University student to appear on Jeopardy! College Championship 11/05/10 [Last modified: Friday, November 5, 2010 9:05pm]

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