By Shelley Swift | Daily Reporter
GREENFIELD — He’s an Indiana University senior and Greenfield-Central High School grad who recently competed on the “Jeopardy!” College Championship with Alex Trebek.
Who is…Tyler Combs.
The 21-year-old traveled to Culver City, Calif., with his parents, Hobert and Vicki Combs of Greenfield, to tape the show in front of a studio audience on Feb. 3 and 4.
He and 14 other competitors beat out thousands who were vying for a spot on the award-winning show’s college tourney, which offers a $100,000 grand prize and a chance to compete in the show’s annual Tournament of Champions.
“It was 100% a bucket list thing for me,” said Combs between classes in Bloomington recently.
Just making the finals and doing the taping was enough to make Combs’ bucket list overflow. “Going in, my mentality was, making it this far is enough. I could bomb out in the first round and it would still be the experience of a lifetime,” he said.
Whether he bombed or conquered will remain a mystery until the tournament airs April 6-17 on WTHR-TV (Channel 13).
Like all “Jeopardy!” contestants, Combs is legally bound not to reveal any details from the competition.
He can share that his TV debut takes place on April 10. “I hope everyone tunes in to see what happens,” he said.
Competing on the wildly popular television game was a longtime dream for Combs, who has been faithfully watching the show ever since he was in elementary school. Watching it was a nightly routine for him and his parents.
“Every night he’d come in right at 7:30 and tell me it was time to turn on ‘Jeopardy!’ his dad said.
He and Vicki would frequently exchange shocked glances as their only child rattled off answer after answer while watching the game show, which is known for frequently stumping its mostly adult audience.
“We’d get one or two answers right and we’d hoop and holler, but Tyler always answered the questions pretty consistently,” his dad said.
Watching their son compete on the actual “Jeopardy!” stage with host Alex Trebek moved the parents to tears more than once during the taping.
“It was most definitely surreal,” said Vicki Combs, who cherished sharing the moment-of-a-lifetime with her son.
“Through the whole process, I was excited, but my parents were even more excited,” said Tyler Combs. “I could count on one hand how many conversations I’ve had with them since then that weren’t about ‘Jeopardy!,’” he added with a laugh.
In August, his parents had just booked a February cruise when their son told them he had filled out the online application to appear on the college championship show. He was one of more than 8,000 people to apply online.
As he progressed to the next round — involving more testing and a personality assessment in St. Louis — they quickly began reassessing their travel plans. By then, Tyler was one of 300 people auditioning.
“Whenever he said that he took the test and that he felt good about it, I told my wife we’ll just cancel that cruise. I had a feeling he’d be going to Culver City,” Hobert said.
His parents said their son’s laid-back nature was surely an asset when the show’s producers were doing personality assessments, to see which finalists would excel at being on TV.
“It’s TV first and foremost, so they wanted to make sure we’re ready for television. I put on my best TV face and tried to be as expressive as possible,” Combs recalled.
The finalists also did mock “Jeopardy!” competitions with buzzers, just like on the show.
About six weeks after St. Louis, Combs got the call he’d been waiting for — an invitation to compete on “Jeopardy!” against 14 other finalists.
Traveling with his parents, the whole family was thrilled to immerse themselves in the taping, and to meet Trebek. “It was really the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. Alex and everyone on the show are as nice in person as they seem on TV. They made us feel super at home,” said Combs, who was able to do some sightseeing with his parents when taping concluded.
“The studio booked almost half a hotel for the contestants at the historic Culver Hotel, a really fancy hotel that at one point was owned by Charlie Chaplin, who according to legend lost it to John Wayne,” he said.
Staying in such close quarters with fellow contestants made it easy to get to know his competitors, who hailed from all over the United States.
“With this big-deal national competition, especially with high-achieving college students, you’d expect there to be a lot of competition. But everyone was amazing. We’ve been keeping in touch,” he said.
Combs can’t say what categories or questions came up during his taping, but shared that his strongest areas are history, geography and current events. “I was really hoping there wasn’t math, because I’m really bad at math,” he said.
As a student at Greenfield-Central High School, Combs was on the Quiz Bowl team, which went undefeated in conference competition during the two years he served as captain.
Combs was also on the school’s Academic Super Bowl Team, the English and History Interdisciplinary Academic Super Bowl teams, and was president of Junior State of America, a political discussion and civic engagement club.
Since graduating and heading to IU in 2016, Combs has enjoyed coming back home to visit and keeping in touch with old friends.
“It’s always nice to come home and visit friends and family. I was really happy to represent my school and community on ‘Jeopardy!,'” he said.
When his debut episode airs on April 10, he hopes to host a watch party with friends at IU. “Luckily it’s on a Friday, so hopefully lots of people can tune in,” he said.
His parents said watching “Jeopardy!” isn’t as fun as it used to be now that their son’s not there to shout out the answers. Deep down, they always knew he’d one day fulfill his quest to compete on the show.
It was clear he was a bright kid from an early age. At age 4, he recited the alphabet for his father, then quickly accepted the challenge to recite it backwards. By age 5, he was bringing his parents literary classics like “Tom Sawyer” for reading time, rather than books written for kids.
Flash forward to 2020, and their little bookworm is set to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in political science from IU in May. Combs hopes to find a job in Washington, D.C., working in national security and foreign policy, but first he plans to take a 10-day trip to Uzbekistan with a friend.
And of course, he continues to shout out the answers while watching “Jeopardy!” as often as he can.
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Greenfield native Tyler Combs will appear on this year’s “Jeopardy!” College Championship, airing April 6-17. His early-round game will air on April 10.
The award-winning show airs weeknights at 7:30 p.m. on WTHR-TV (Channel 13). The show draws a national weekly audience of 23 million viewers.
Since its debut in 1964, “Jeopardy!” has become the top-rated quiz show on television, racking up 35 Emmy awards, including the 2019 Emmy for Outstanding Game Show Host, Alex Trebek.
Fifteen college students from around the country gathered in Culver City, Calif. Feb. 3-4 to film the College Championship shows, including:
– Sophie Casarico, a junior at Florida State University (Tallahassee, Fla.) from St. Augustine, Fla.
– Joe Coker, a junior at Hendrix College (Conway, Ark.) from Conway, Ark.
– Tyler Combs, a senior at Indiana University (Bloomington, Ind.) from Greenfield, Ind.
– Marshall Comeaux, a sophomore at the University of Texas (Austin, Texas) from Dallas, Texas.
– Emma Farrell, a senior at Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, Pa.) from Telford, Pa.
– Alistair Gray, a sophomore at the University of California, San Diego (La Jolla, Calif.) from Sunnyvale, Calif.
– Sirad Hassan, a senior at Princeton University (Princeton, N.J.) from Frederick, Md.
– Natalie Hathcote, a junior at Liberty University (Lynchburg, Va.) from Parker, Colo.
– Kayla Kalhor, a sophomore at the University of Florida (Gainesville, Fla.) from Longwood, Fla.
– Beni Keown, a freshman at Northwestern University (Evanston, Ill.) from Evanston, Ill.
– Londyn Lorenz, a sophomore at the University of Mississippi (Oxford, Miss.) from Perryville, Mo.
– Nathaniel Miller, a sophomore at Yale University (New Haven, Conn.) from Miami, Fla.
– Nibir Sarma, a sophomore at the University of Minnesota (Minneapolis, Minn.) from Eden Prairie, Minn.
– Kylie Weaver, a senior at Penn State (State College, Pa.) from McLean, Va.
– Xiaoke Ying, a sophomore at the University of Southern California (Los Angeles, Calif.) from Arcadia, Calif.