Glenview's Fiona Hellerman one of 36 students to reach 'Jeopardy National College Championship'

  • Courtesy of Jeopardy Productions Inc.Fiona Hellerman, who grew up in Glenview, is competing in the "Jeopardy!" college championship.

    Courtesy of Jeopardy Productions Inc.Fiona Hellerman, who grew up in Glenview, is competing in the "Jeopardy!" college championship.

  • After winning the Maple School 2012 Geography Bee, Fiona Hellerman (right) is awarded a medal by sixth-grade social studies teacher Mary Norquist.

    After winning the Maple School 2012 Geography Bee, Fiona Hellerman (right) is awarded a medal by sixth-grade social studies teacher Mary Norquist. Courtesy of Beth Preis

  • Courtesy of Jeopardy Productions Inc.Fiona Hellerman, right, who grew up in Glenview and now attends Tulane, met "Jeopardy!" host Mayim Bialik on the set of the show's college tournament in Culver City, Calif.

    Courtesy of Jeopardy Productions Inc.Fiona Hellerman, right, who grew up in Glenview and now attends Tulane, met "Jeopardy!" host Mayim Bialik on the set of the show's college tournament in Culver City, Calif.

 
 
Updated 2/11/2022 11:16 AM

Fiona Hellerman was a "Jeopardy" whiz from way back.

Family visits to the home of her "Nana and Papa," grandparents Deirdre and Angelo Christopher, would have everyone watching the classic game show.

 

A trivia buff, Fiona had a knack for correctly answering the questions.

"You're going to be on 'Jeopardy' some day," Nana would tell her.

Fast-forward to college at Tulane University in New Orleans. Taking donations at the Tulane Fund call center, Fiona and her co-workers play along to "Jeopardy" during downtime.

"The joke was, 'Fiona should apply for 'College Jeopardy,'" Hellerman said.

Both Nana and the Tulane Fund gang called it. A Glenview resident and senior at Tulane, Hellerman will appear on the "Jeopardy National College Championship" on ABC 7 at 7 p.m. Feb. 16, one of 36 college students out of 26,000 who initially applied online.

The college tournament was filmed in November at the Sony studios in Culver City, basically Los Angeles, with hostess Mayim Bialik. As with all reality contests on television, Hellerman cannot discuss outcomes, advancement or even the questions posed.

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She can discuss her reaction.

"It was surreal," she said. "Being on set and on stage, just being around the stage, seeing the Emmys Alex Trebek has won, being there it felt like I had to pinch myself all the time because I couldn't believe it. It was everything I imagined it could be and even more," said Hellerman, a double-major in international relations and philosophy.

"It was incredible and I was so, so grateful for the support from my friends, family and my professors -- and everyone who's taught me anything, because that's why I'm there," she said.

It caused a buzz this week in Northbrook/Glenview School District 30, at Maple School and at Willowbrook Elementary School, right across from Richard and Kelly Hellerman's house on Happy Hollow Road.

Once one of her former Willowbrook teachers, Sue Weingarten, discovered Hellerman was going to be on "Jeopardy" it launched a flurry of emails between District personnel such as Willowbrook teacher Heidi Fletcher, Principal Scott Carlson and Maple School music director Decima Panitch.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"She's always had a curious, intellectual brain, and she's always wanted to be on 'Jeopardy,'" Richard Hellerman said. "The District 30 teachers, especially (a gifted English language arts, now second-grade) teacher named Ann Angel, promoted in her a love for reading and curiosity and learning in general."

Getting on the show was a long process that started simply. In October 2020 Fiona visited the program's website, jeopardy.com, and took a 15-minute test while baking cookies at Tulane.

"I was like, 'I'll take it for fun and see what happens,'" she said.

That December an email came saying she'd qualified for a second, faster round, over Zoom. Again she did well, qualifying for a third round in January 2021 in front of a team of producers. She again advanced, and was told she might get a call anytime over the next year.

In early September a producer called to confirm her availability. Two weeks later she was informed she'd been selected as one of 36 quarterfinalists.

"A bucket list item of all bucket list items," Hellerman said.

In Culver City she shared a touching personal moment with Bialik, telling the host her late, great Uncle John was a fan of Bialik's other show, "The Big Bang Theory.

During taping Hellerman had more trouble getting the timing down with the hand-held clicker than she did handling the questions, she said.

"It wasn't really stressful being on stage and competing," Fiona said. "Mentally I put myself in my living room at home with my family or my Tulane Fund call center pretending I was just answering questions casually and not in front of a ton of producers who were filming me."

Like Rich and Kelly Hellerman, and the District 30 folks, Nana and Papa would be proud.

"Genuinely it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience," Fiona said. "It's airing soon, so tune in."

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