Carlton alumnus emerges victorious on ‘Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions’

Minneapolis-based substitute teacher Sam Kavanaugh has now secured six victories on the nationally viewed trivia gameshow.

Sam Kavanaugh has won Jeopardy's "Tournament of Champions," earning a total of $250,000. (Photo courtesy of Jeopardy Productions, Inc.)

Carlton native Sam Kavanaugh recently claimed the ultimate "Jeopardy!" victory when he took home first place on the gameshow’s “Tournament of Champions."

Kavanaugh, 30, took home a grand total of $250,000 from the 10-day competition, with second-place winner Jennifer Quail winning $100,000 and third-place winner Veronica Vichit-Vadakan netting $50,000.

“I’ve dreamed about this for so long,” Kavanaugh said on the show, which aired Friday, May 28. “This was such a distant, faint thing when I first tried out for 'Jeopardy!', and then it slowly grew in my mind.”

Kavanaugh told the Pine Journal that he grew up watching “Jeopardy!” with his mom every day after attending school in Carlton and has aspired to compete on the show for as long as he can remember.

He credits his experiences in the Carlton community as main contributors to his "Jeopardy!" success, citing knowledge gained from his parents, teachers, diverse high school experience and even trivia games played while working at Finke’s Berry Farm in Carlton.


“It’s kind of a lifestyle,” he said.

Now, it would appear Kavanaugh's hard work paid off, with Friday’s competition marking his largest-scale victory on the show.

While Kavanaugh had previously won five “Jeopardy!” games in 2019, he shared that the competition for the “Tournament of Champions” was furious and the questions were more challenging than ever before.

Despite the daunting challenge, Kavanaugh said he experienced a strange sense of calm during most of the competition, describing the pressure as more internal than external.

He shared that he only really stopped to soak in the experience after one of his idols, “Jeopardy!” guest host and champion Buzzy Cohen, told him to pause for a moment after his victory.

In honor of former "Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebek, who died late last year, "Jeopardy!" will match the $250,000 grand prize through a donation to the Hope of the Valley Trebek Center for the Homeless.

According to a news release, the Trebek Center will assist up to 300 people per year with shelter, intensive case management, mental health services, job training and placement, substance abuse counseling, housing navigation, life skill training and medical care.

Kavanaugh told the Pine Journal that he plans to invest portions of his winnings back into the communities of Minneapolis and Carlton through donations to repay them for all they have given him.


He also hopes to use some of it for travel funds to visit his former competitors on the “Tournament of Champions," explaining that the participants of the show bonded during the filming in April, with hangout sessions in the "Wheel of Fortune" studio and ongoing text threads.

“It’s just been one of the greatest things I’ve ever done,” Quail said during a "Jeopardy!" interview. “This is what we do, and we love it.”

Vichit-Vadakan told the show that just being a part of the competition was an honor and said she hopes to continue the friendships she has made.

While he currently resides in Minneapolis, Kavanaugh is planning to return to his Carlton roots this summer to work as a camp counselor at Carlton Community Education's three-day "Flight and Outer Space" summer camp.

This story was updated at 11:51 a.m. June 2 with additional comments from Sam Kavanaugh. It was originally posted at 4:39 p.m. June 1.

Izabel Johnson
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