Get our free newsletter

Jeopardy!, the long-running TV game show involving answers and questions, set up shop at DAR Constitution Hall to shoot a variety of special programs over the past 10 days, providing D.C. audiences the opportunity to gaze upon power players like Louis C.K., Jonathan Franzen, and Lara Logan, as well as trivia master Alex Trebek.

By the time the Teen Tournament started taping on Tuesday, the nearly 100-person crew had been in town for more than a week, transforming the auditorium used for concerts and high school graduations into a set populated by a game board, contestant podiums, and a faux Lincoln Memorial. The 15 contestants, all between the ages of 14 and 17, were ready to prove that they knew more about American history, popular culture, and geography than your average high school student.

(Full disclosure/humblebrag: I competed in a Jeopardy! Teen Tournament in 2007 as a high school senior.)

Hailing from Alabama, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin, the contestants arrived in town a few days before filming began to get the lay of the land. On Monday, they embarked on a bus tour of the tourist’s D.C., checking out the Washington Monument, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and other sites around the National Mall. First, however, they stopped at Ben’s Chili Bowl for fuel and a photo op.

Asked the next day about their adventures, reactions ranged from astonished to nonplussed. Antonio Karides, a 17-year-old from Severna Park, Md., who says he frequents D.C. “enough to have a Metro card,” had seen the sites before but threw in a few good words for Ben’s french fries and its homey feel. But first-time East Coast visitor Sabrina Duong, a sophomore from La Jolla, Calif., was stunned by what she saw. “Since I’m from the West Coast, you only read about this stuff,” she says. “When you see the stuff, it’s breathtaking.”

During commercial breaks, the star of the show answered questions from the audience about everything from his favorite film (1941’s How Green Was My Valley) to his favorite basketball team (the Los Angeles Lakers). Trebek also declared Constitution Hall to be his favorite place to take the show on the road. What makes it so special? The enthusiasm of an audience of between 1,500 to 2,000 people, about 10 times as large as the audience for most episodes taped in L.A., “is contagious. It’s contagious for the contestants and for myself. I come out here and I want to please and I’m excited.” The D.C. crowd is also more educated, Trebek says, basing his response on the results of the online tests prospective players take.

Trebek was also full of quips about D.C.’s favorite sports teams. A longtime fan of Washington’s football team going back to the days of George Allen, Sonny Jurgensen, and Sam Huff, he repeated that the team shouldn’t change its name, which drew stunned silence from the crowd. The consummate showman, Trebek won the audience back by predicting that the Capitals would lift the Stanley Cup this year for the first time. And try as he might, he couldn’t keep away the fans; he interrupted his media interviews to pose for a photo with an 88-year-old fan from North Carolina.

Also among the people eager to get face time with Trebek: At-Large D.C. Councilmember and Twitter photographer extraordinaire Vincent Orange.

Photo by Caroline Jones