Cambridge resident tapped for first-ever ‘Jeopardy!’ Invitational


Watch the Somerville bar-trivia regular/ MIT student/ Brown Alum on March 29.

Dhruv Gaur, an MIT graduate student from Cambridge, Mass., is set to compete in the first-ever JEOPARDY! Invitational Tournament competing against greats for the $100,000 grand prize. courtesy: Jeopardy Productions, Inc.

What is some of the best “Jeopardy!”players of the last 40 years?

It’s the “Jeopardy!” Invitational Tournament. Think of it like the Oscars, if you could go back and pick movies from the ‘80s through today. 

As a “Jeopardy!” fan, I was shocked that just one New Englander was tapped among the 27 players, according to the show roster. But I can’t say I’m surprised it’s Cambridge’s Dhruv Gaur. 

Even if you’re not a “Jeopardy!” fan, you might remember the MIT grad student as the then-Brown University student who went viral and landed on “Ellen” in 2019 for making Alex Trebek tear up. 

It was shortly after Trebek shared his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Instead of answering the Final Jeopardy question in the 2019 Tournament of Champions, Gaur wrote “What is we [heart] you, Alex!” Trebek’s voice trembled and cracked: “That’s very kind.”

Five years later, “Jeopardy!” asked him back for the first-ever Invitational Tournament.  You’ll see many fan-favorites.

Among them:“Jeopardy!” Amy Schneider, the winningest woman in show history and one of the best to play the game.  Austin Rogers, the charismatic bartender/trivia whiz who became a hit in 2017.  Chuck Forrest, 1986 Tournament of Champions winner, who developed the “Forrest Bounce,” in which contestants leap from one category to another rather than working through them sequentially. (James Holzhauer told me he used the Forrest Bounce on his way to domination.)

One my favorites , Steve Martin-look-alike and perhaps Most Avuncular Player in show history, Sam Buttrey. The 2021 Professors Tournament winner and “Jeopardy! Masters” player coined “Bring it!” for the last clue on the board. (I think it’s been used in almost every game since. And yes, someone made a “Bring It Like Buttrey” tee.)

The JIT, as Jennings is calling it on air, is underway.  

Gaur — the 2018 College Champion and a 2019 Tournament of Champions semi-finalist — competes March 29. The winner snags $100,000 and an invitation to compete in the upcoming “Jeopardy! Masters” 2024 primetime event on ABC.

At 25, Gaur said he’s the youngest in the tournament. He had to study up on ‘90s trivia, and recognized many players from his middle school and high school years growing up in Georgia. 

Since graduating from Brown in 2021, he worked a stint at Harvard as a research assistant and started his PhD in Economics at MIT in 2023. I had a few more questions for the trivia champ.

You were last on the show in 2019.  How did it feel to be back?

It was very different. Alex isn’t there anymore. Ken Jennings is doing an excellent job. But it’s strange because every time I’m on, “Jeopardy!” has upped the ante. I began against talented college students. Now, I’m against legends who I watched when I was 12, 13 years old. It was a Who’s Who of people I watched growing up.

How did you find out you were picked?

In late January, I was visiting New York and on the train back to Boston. I got an email. I had to read it like four or five times to be sure I was reading it right. [laughs] It was really cool but also stressful because I hadn’t thought about trivia in a long time other than bar trivia. I had to get back in shape.

Which bars?

Aeronaut Brewing  in Somerville is a favorite. I like Lamplighter, too. 

You filmed in February. How did you cram in a month?

I listened to a ton of podcasts — old pop culture from the ‘70s ‘80s and ‘90s; history, Shakespeare. I got really into quiz games on my phone or computer. I was shocked that nobody realized what I was doing because anytime I got a free second I’d be doing a quiz, or asking friends to go to bar trivia [laughs.]

What games did you play?

Mostly Sporcle quizzes. We used to play in middle school — I went back for the first time in 12 years.

What made you want to audition for “Jeopardy!” the first time?

I don’t know. I was into quiz bowl in high school. Watching a College Championship tournament, I thought: I know a lot of this,  maybe I should try out. I tried out for the Teen Tournament once — didn’t get it. Then I tried for the College Championship my freshman year at Brown, got on, and it’s been a whole journey from there.

In 2019, you wrote the message to Alex that went viral.

During that tournament, he announced that he had to re-enter treatment for pancreatic cancer. He came back to the green-room to thank us for being there, and you could tell he was tired, going through a lot. 

So during Final Jeopardy, I realized it probably won’t matter [for the win.] I’d prefer to just say something nice with what I thought would be my last time on “Jeopardy!”Not expecting everyone to pick up on it the way they did.

This was your first episode with Ken Jennings.

Nobody on this planet loves the game more than Ken Jennings. He just understands the flow of the game really well. He knows what it’s like to be [the one] answering questions. He does a really great job. 

You grew up watching some of these players. Did you have “fan” moments while filming?

Gosh yeah. Matt Jackson dominated when I was in high school. Lilly Chin was there. Austin Rogers. Leonard Cooper, who was doing his master’s at Brown while I was an undergrad. I didn’t know this, but apparently, he’d come to some of the viewing parties Brown hosted for me.

Chuck Forrest, a legend of the game, flew over from Italy. Sam Buttrey was one of the first people I met and is even more wonderful in person than he is on TV if you can believe it. Such a goofball. He’s retired now, so he  wanted to be introduced on camera as “bon vivant, and man about town.” [laughs] 


I’m not the most plugged in with the trivia community — some past contestants have trivia-related jobs. Victoria Groce and Brandon Blackwell are some of the best trivia players in the country. I didn’t totally realize when I got there. Once I did a little research, I was like, “Oh, this is real serious business.” [laughs] I’m just a grad student. 

So overall, was it a summer-camp vibe?

It was. An intergenerational summer camp. People hung out, got drinks, got dinner together. We have a WhatsApp group now.  After you played, they put you on the “Wheel of Fortune” stage. People were making jokes. It was a really great time.

Will you have a Cambridge watch-party Friday?

We’re on spring break, but many of my classmates and friends in Cambridge agreed to not watch Friday. We’ll watch a recording next week at my house as a makeup watch-party.

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