16-year-old African-American rules Jeopardy.
Answer: He’s 16, from Rockville, Maryland, and $75,000 richer as the winner of the Teen Tournament on the game show Jeopardy!
Question: Who is Raynell Cooper?
The bright and handsome high school senior, a longtime fan of the quiz show, passed an online qualifying test last March, auditioned in person in June, found out he made it in November, and flew to Los Angeles in December to tape his episodes, which aired in February. And he had to keep his win a secret.
“A lot of people were pressuring me to tell them, but I managed to keep it on the down low,” laughs Cooper, who prepared by studying pop culture topics like video games. He was confident in his knowledge of literature, geography and history, which he knows well from the Quiz Bowl competitions he competes in at school. The hardest thing, he says, was ringing in to answer. “If you buzz in too early there’s a quarter-second lock-out, and if you buzz in too late you get beat by somebody else. It took me a while to get that down.”
Winning aside, Cooper says the best part of the experience was meeting his fellow contestants, with whom he’s still in touch via a Facebook group, and escaping the cold Northeast winter for a few days. When his appearances aired, “People I didn’t know were coming up and congratulating me in the hallway. It was crazy, a lot of positive attention,” including “a little bit” more from female classmates, though he’s “yet to work that avenue.”
His parents, Darren and Nancy, have always taught him the importance of learning and education. “I’ve always had a deep love of knowledge, and they made sure I kept that going,” says Cooper, who’s interested in majoring in geography or political science. “Politics is an exciting world, and I want a future in that.” Toward that end, he’s serving as class vice president. He also runs sound for the school’s drama program.
He’s happy to be an example for academic achievement. “I think it’s important that African-American youth have a role model that can show what we can do,” Cooper says, emphasizing “that it’s not all about how we look or dress or being superficial but about knowledge, which can take you far in this world.”
(Photo: Jeopardy Productions, Inc.)