Ananya Nrusimha has a firm handshake and looks people directly in the eye upon meeting them. She is well-spoken and confident, yet humble. This would be enough to make the 16-year-old girl from East Amherst impressive, aside from her accomplishments.
Thursday evening, Ananya’s face will be seen in millions of living rooms as she begins her run on the “Jeopardy! Teen Tournament,” which began Monday in “Jeopardy!’s” normal time slot and runs through Aug. 1.
“It was surreal,” Ananya said of the experience. “You’re in a movie theater and Alex Trebek is right there.”
Appearing on the show was the moment she has been waiting for since sixth grade, when she first started to apply to be on “Jeopardy! Kids Week.” As soon as she was old enough, she started taking the online test for the teen version.
The process for getting on the show requires potential contestants to first pass a 50-question online test. Then a select group is invited to attend a live audition in one of several cities around the country. In Ananya’s case, it was New York City. After that, the chosen contestants are flown to Los Angeles to tape the show for TV. Ananya had made it to the second round twice before, but now, as a rising junior at Williamsville East High School, she will have her moment to shine in the national spotlight.
Ananya is no stranger to competition. As a first-grader, she was the state Spelling Bee champion. In sixth and eighth grade, she took second place in the her school’s Geography Bee. She is a member of her school’s Masterminds, an academic team that takes part in quiz bowls against other schools in the region and state, and has been swimming competitively since middle school. Her résumé also lists her as a medal winner for her school’s Science Olympiad team and as the 2013 New York State accounting champion of the Future Business Leaders of America.
“She doesn’t get stage fright,” said her father, Satyan Lakshminrusimha. “She’s not nervous at all. I’m the nervous one, pacing back and forth,” he continued.
The family watched “Jeopardy!” together every night until Ananya entered high school and had to spend those hours on homework. She has two younger brothers, aged 14 and 5.
Lakshminrushimha is an associate professor of pediatrics at University at Buffalo and the chief of the Division of Neonatology at Women & Children’s Hospital of Buffalo. His wife, Zina Manja, is a cardiologist at the Buffalo VA Medical Center. She’s the one, according to her husband, who started getting the family interested in the competitions.
“I’m just the driver,” Lakshminrusimha said, laughing.
While “Jeopardy!” provided two round-trip tickets to each contestant, the whole family, including Ananya’s maternal grandparents, went to support the 16-year-old in Los Angeles during the four days of taping in March.
“We are all big fans of Alex Trebek,” her father said.
Despite her many accomplishments, Ananya is mostly just like any other teen. She has spent the mornings of the last two weeks in driver’s ed and has a penchant for young adult fiction like the “Mortal Instruments” series. During the afternoons of her summer vacations, she can be found volunteering at her parents’ places of work.
She likes superhero movies and comics. Her favorite superhero is the new Ms. Marvel, who is a female, Pakistani teenager. Ananya is an editor on her school’s newspaper and wants to double-major in pre-med and writing in college.
Ananya thinks the secret to her success is that she has simply read a lot. Her favorite subject in school is English.
“When I was little, my parents had me read a lot of nonfiction books,” she said.
She also credited her AP U.S. History class and her Masterminds teacher, Michael Harnick, as having been very helpful in preparing her for the famous trivia show.
Before leaving for Los Angeles in March, the then-sophomore watched old episodes of “Jeopardy!” and practiced hitting the buzzer by clicking a pen.
Because the episodes haven’t aired yet, Ananya was unable to discuss how far she made it on the show, so Western New Yorkers will have to tune in starting at 7:30 p.m. Thursday on Channel 4 WIVB-TV to see how their hometown contestant fares.
She was able to say that the categories were varied and that the show does tone the questions down to what it thinks is appropriate for the age group.
“Most of us can answer the adult questions, though,” she said.