As the iconic “Jeopardy!” quiz show’s College Championship kicks off on Tuesday, Feb. 8, another accomplished undergraduate from Brown will add to the list of students who have represented the University on the national trivia stage, often with winning results.
Max Niles, a Brown senior who will graduate in May with a bachelor’s degree in history and public policy, said he’d taken a couple of “Jeopardy!” trivia tests in the past, and nothing ever came of it. But four weeks after completing a 50-question online test during the Fall 2020 semester, he was invited to compete in a live game held over Zoom, where he did well enough to be added to the show’s contestant pool.
In October 2021, Niles was selected as a contestant, and by November, he was on his way to Los Angeles to film two weeks’ worth of College Championship episodes.
“It sunk in in so many different ways,” Niles said. “It was like, ‘Oh, I’m on the plane to L.A.! Oh, I’m on the ‘Jeopardy!’ stage! Oh, I just hit the buzzer — this is real!’”
Niles is the first to admit he isn’t an across-the-board trivia aficionado. He didn’t play much trivia growing up, nor did he find his community at Brown by way of trivia nights. He is a self-proclaimed “Jeopardy!” nerd, though — Niles said he was raised on a steady diet of dinners spent with his mother and grandparents watching “Nightly News,” immediately followed by “Jeopardy!”
“I mean, we watched it every single night,” Niles said. “I loved it. And after playing along with my family, I thought, ‘Hey, I’m actually pretty good at this!’ I guess I’m very good at remembering random facts.”
Just like the random facts he’s committed to memory, Niles’ activities at Brown cover a wide range of topics.
He’s worked as the programming coordinator for the Ivy Film Festival and as a volunteer with the Brown Elementary Afterschool Mentoring program, spending many afternoons tutoring young students — perhaps even a “Jeopardy!” protégé in the making — at William D’Abate Elementary School in Providence’s Olneyville neighborhood. He has served also as a member of Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere, a student-run Swearer Center program that combats homelessness. With his focus in history and public policy, Niles hopes to learn from the past to inform the future, perhaps working to solve housing and urban issues through political consulting.
A Washington, D.C., native, Niles first visited Brown as a high school junior, when he spent the late summer touring colleges and universities across the country. His first impression of campus stuck with him, and he said the moment he left Providence, he knew he’d have to come back.
“I saw so many excited students talking about the classes they had just left,” Niles said. “They were deeply engaged, incredibly smart — but nonchalant about their smartness — and so, so caring.”
Niles is among a small number of Brown community members to appear on “Jeopardy!” but he’s not the first. Most recently, Dhruv Gaur — now a research data analyst at Brown’s Population Studies and Training Center —represented the University as a first-year student in 2018, ultimately capturing the College Championship.
Though Niles can’t share the results of his November taping sessions, all will be revealed on Friday, Feb. 11, when his first College Championship appearance — hopefully of many — with host Mayim Bialik airs.
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