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For Terp and Her Twin, It’s Double ‘Jeopardy!’

UMD Student Set to Appear Just Weeks After Sister Competes in Show’s College Tournament

By Annie Krakower

Ken Jennings and Ciara Donegan on "Jeopardy!" set

UMD student Ciara Donegan ’22 stands on the “Jeopardy!” set with host Ken Jennings. She will appear on the show next week, just a few weeks after her twin sister, Carnegie Mellon student Kristin Donegan (below), competed in the show’s college tournament.

“Jeopardy!” set photos courtesy of Jeopardy Productions, Inc.; photo of Donegans courtesy of Kristin and Ciara Donegan

An astounding trivia triumph. What is: Not only one twin making it to the “Jeopardy!” stage, but both—within mere weeks of each other?

Fans of the long-running game show watched last month as Kristin Donegan, a student at Carnegie Mellon University, competed in the “Jeopardy!” National College Championship. Now, her sister, University of Maryland atmospheric and oceanic science major Ciara Donegan ’22, is taking her turn at the podium, with her episode of the series’ regular competition airing March 24.

“It was kind of just a shock for me, because I hear that there are people who take decades to get on the show,” Ciara said. “One of us getting on ‘Jeopardy!’ is kind of crazy. The fact that both of us made it on? Definitely, the odds of that are crazy.”

Kristin and Ciara Donegan with Christmas lights in background

The Donegans have been honing their trivia skills since childhood, with both participating in quiz bowl in middle school and joining the “It’s Academic” team at Towson High School (in addition to routine “Jeopardy!” viewing, of course). They’ve both lost count of how many times they’ve taken the test to get on the show, and the 50-question assessment’s online, anytime format allowed them to keep trying even during COVID-19.

Call it twin telepathy or just a coincidence, but that seemed to do the trick for both of them. “Jeopardy!” staff then separately invited each Donegan to take another test on Zoom—“basically making sure we weren’t cheating,” Ciara said—and then audition with a virtual mock game. Kristin ended up being selected to film just before Thanksgiving; then two or three weeks later, it was Ciara’s turn.

“I got a text one day from one of the contestant coordinators saying, ‘Are you available to do a phone call? We have a few questions about your audition.’” Ciara said. “So I just showed it to Kristin, and I was like, ‘What does this mean? Does this mean I’m on the show?’”

Turns out, the answer was yes. To prep, Ciara, like Kristin, cracked open the book “Secrets of the Buzzer” (written by a former “Jeopardy!” Tournament of Champions winner), and she practiced her thumb reaction time with a pen and even a crochet hook. The whole family, home during winter break, had to “agree to shut up,” Kristin said, to allow Ciara to rehearse as they watched “Jeopardy!” together. Ciara, a Banneker/Key Scholar, said she believes her STEM classes combined with humanities courses for her French minor helped her prepare.

Carnegie Mellon student Kristin Donegan on the "Jeopardy!" set

Finally standing on the set she’d seen so many times on TV and meeting host Ken Jennings was surreal, Ciara said. (Kristin, who battled her way to a semifinal tiebreaker during her tournament hosted by Mayim Bialik, was jealous her twin got to chat with the “Jeopardy!” GOAT.) But the camaraderie among the competitors stood out the most.

“Obviously it’s a competitive environment—we’re all there hoping to win,” Ciara said, noting that due to COVID, those fellow players made up the entire audience. “(But) we were all cheering for each other the whole time.”

The Donegans asked around among the “Jeopardy!” community, and while they aren’t the only siblings or even twins to compete on the show, they believe they’re appearing in the shortest time span. The fact they were on different versions of “Jeopardy!” only added to the fun—and perhaps spared some fraternal feelings.

“It’s still just as easy to compare the experiences, but I think it maybe makes our comparison of how we do less competitive,” Kristin said. “Barely anyone has those experiences, but we got to share them.”

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