Miami history whiz student makes the cut for ‘Jeopardy!’ teen tournament

Lucas Miner had a lot on his plate.

Between juggling classes like AP U.S. Government and AP Calculus AB in his junior year, the Ransom Everglades School rising senior headed the Extemporaneous Speaking team in Speech and Debate and volunteered at Big Brothers and Big Sisters.

He was also prepping for the SAT. He’s got eyes on Yale. Though if you asked him last year what his biggest goal was, he probably wouldn’t mention Yale.

His main objective: Landing a spot on the “Jeopardy! Teen Tournament,” a competition that attracts thousands of students across the country, ages 14-17, who compete for a chance to show off their knowledge and win a grand prize of $100,000.

Last summer, he found out he’d garnered one of the 15 quarter-finalist spots on the show, giving him about six months to prepare for the December taping. His episode will air at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday on WPLG-Local 10, the ABC affiliate.

And so his end-of-day ritual wasn’t just homework and dinner with the family. He’d sit in front of the TV and watch “Jeopardy!” with a ballpoint pen in hand. He was practicing the art of the buzzer, which takes more strategy than most think.

His road to the popular game show has been years in the making.

His grandmother discovered his talent when they watched the show together at her South Carolina home when he was younger. She noticed he was good at the “Teen Tournament” questions and urged him to try out.

Years later, Lucas took the “Jeopardy!” Online Test in 2017 but didn’t do well enough to advance. He retook it in the late spring last year, and was invited over the summer to New Orleans for in-person auditions. Approximately 6,000 teens across the country took the online tests for this tournament, with the show’s producers selecting 300 for in-person auditions.

From those auditions, 15 people are chosen. Lucas made the cut.

He began prepping over the summer, but the hard-core studying took place about a month before the December taping.

For one, he watched another “Jeopardy Teen Tournament” in November.

“I could see how well I was doing and what I needed to focus on,“ Lucas said.

It also helped that the holder of “Jeopardy!”s fourth-longest winning streak, David Madden, is the executive director of the National History Bee. Lucas has either competed or qualified for Nationals since sixth grade.

When he reached out to Madden for tips, Madden forwarded him study guides, spreadsheets and wagering and buzzer timing strategies.

Lucas, 17, learned most of his preliminary knowledge in history and geography from his years in the History Bee.

“Partly because of [History Bee], I have a deep knowledge of history and historical facts and geography, but ‘Jeopardy!’ isn’t just that,” Lucas said.

Lucas’ parents bought him books written by past “Jeopardy!” contestants that helped fill in his knowledge gaps.

“They were super useful and have [information like] the Shakespeare plays you need to know, parts of the body, Oscar nominees,” Lucas said.

Lucas’ training for “Jeopardy!” was similar to his SAT prep, although he says there was a big difference.

“Studying for the SAT is sort of a grind and trying to understand the testing strategies. It’s kind of fun learning all of these things, and you’re gonna be on TV. Studying for ‘Jeopardy!’ was a lot more enjoyable,” he said.

Lucas’ love of learning is what teachers say sets him apart.

Just ask his middle school academic team coach, Joe Mauro.

“He’s the type of student to have an an insatiable desire to learn. He’s never satisfied with the normal learning and wants to go beyond and learn everything about history,” Mauro said.

Lucas kicked off his summer vacation with a trip to France to visit Normandy for the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

His love of learning and ability to master difficult material go hand in hand. Though she hasn’t known him for long, his AP Calculus AB teacher, Jean Duty, says she’s amazed by what he accomplishes in the classroom.

“Sometime as a teacher you want to push [students] to think higher,’’ Duty said. “He was always well read enough that he could see where the concepts were leading to. A lot of times I’ll have to bring [students] through the steps, but he could get there on his own.”

Lucas and his family flew to California for the taping. On the first day, tensions were high among the 15 quarter-finalists vying for a chance to get into the semifinals (9 contestants) and finals (3).

By the end of his second day, however, he had a new group of friends.

“We’re just like one big happy “Jeopardy!” family. Everyone was a little nervous, filling out forms, being in the green room, but we ended up bonding. We took pictures with Polaroid cameras, and everyone was trying to collectively calm each others’ nerves,” he said.

He can’t disclose how he did in the tournament, but he says the experience alone was invaluable.

“I remember going to the ‘Jeopardy!’ filming and feeling how surreal it was, shaking Alex Trebek’s hand. When you look back, it’s like, ‘That really happened?’ ”