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Park Rapids grad to appear on 'Jeopardy!'

"Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebek posed for a photo with Kienholz at her show's taping on Nov. 7. (Submitted photo)

This member of the Park Rapids High School class of 1967 will be a contestant on "Jeopardy!" during the week of Christmas. Who is Kathryn Kienholz?

According to Kienholz, her episode of the nationally televised quiz show will air at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 27 on KARE-11 in the Twin Cities.

"I am sworn not to reveal anything that happened in my game," Kienholz wrote on social media. "I can tell you this: I won at least $1,000, the guaranteed payout for the person in third place."

Kienholz, who now lives in Milltown, Wis., is planning a watch party at a restaurant in St. Croix Falls. Referring to her Minnesota upbringing, she wrote, "We are supposed to be modest in all things — but this is my 22 minutes of fame."

Meantime, Kienholz is sure to have local fans pulling for her in Park Rapids on Dec. 27.

"I'm hoping that she does really well. She's an absolutely brilliant person," said Kathy Schmidt, who was Kienholz's best friend in high school. "It's pretty neat that somebody from Park Rapids had an opportunity to be on a national television show like that."

Schmidt, who plans to watch her friend's episode at home, recalled that Kienholz was in the National Honor Society, won a National Merit Scholarship Award, studied at the University of Minnesota, and went on to a career as an accounting.

"Everybody always teased her," said Schmidt. "When we played games, she always knew the answer to everything. Everyone said to her, 'You should be on 'Jeopardy!' because she could answer all the questions, all the time."

Making the grade

Schmidt's admiration was audible when she described all the "rigorous" tests her friend took to qualify for the show.

In a phone interview, Kienholz agreed that her day on camera came after years of trying out for the program.

"I have taken the 'Jeopardy!' test, the initial screening, at least 10 times," she said. "The first one was in 1999. Five times I have qualified, where they call you in with 50 other people to do an audition — take another test and do another quick mini-game."

Kienholz took her most recent 'Jeopardy!' test late last spring, and her audition was in August in Portland, Ore.

"The fifth time, I apparently did well enough because a couple months later they called me back and said, 'We'd like you to be on the show.' I got the call in early to mid-October," she said. "A lady called and said, 'I work for a TV show called "Jeopardy!"' and right then I knew what it was. I kept waiting for her to finish on the phone because I wanted to call my husband and tell him."

Her episode was taped on Nov. 7 at Sony Studios in Culver City, Calif., a suburb of Los Angeles. Kienholz and husband Smokey Jensen flew out to L.A. the day before and flew home the day after. Their older son flew out from New Mexico to join the audience.

"That day was great fun," Kienholz said. "The crew and the staff there work so hard to make sure everybody is having a good time."

Kienholz shared some behind-the-scenes insights about the program.

"They tape Tuesdays and Wednesdays every other week, and they tape five shows a day," she said. "If you ever watch 'Jeopardy!' they show the audience sometimes. It's divided into four sections, and there are about 25 seats in each section. One of those sections is for that day's contestants, and another section is for friends and family; another is for the people on the tour bus, and I think the other section is for people who requested tickets."

Kienholz described the "Jeopardy!" crew as helpful and encouraging.

"I have kind of a bad back, so I can't stand for very long," she said. "They had this chair, special for people like me, so I was able to sit. Behind the podium, where you're standing (or sitting, in my case), at each spot there's an elevator about two feet square that you stand on, and they bring that up so that everybody is roughly the same height."

Part of something big

This TV personality has hosted more than 7,000 episodes of "Jeopardy!" since 1984. Who is Alex Trebek?

"Alex Trebek seems a decent guy," Kienholz said about the longtime quiz master. "Between the different shows and rehearsals during the day, he would come out and talk to the audience and take questions from the audience. He just seemed like a good guy, not full of himself."

Originally created by Merv Griffin in 1964, the show is known for its reverse-quiz format, where each question is phrased as a statement and the answer as a question.

To face Trebek on "Jeopardy!" is to be part of a big thing, and Kienholz knows it. She said she looked forward to receiving a copy of a production photo taken of her with Trebek.

Asked whether her experience on the program ignited a desire to appear on other game shows, Kienholz laughed and said, "No. One of the things you have to sign is that you have not appeared on any other of Merv Griffin's shows in the last five years. So I can't for five years, and I think I'll be too old by then."

This, according to Jensen, was the age of the oldest contestant ever to appear on "Jeopardy!" What is 72?

Kienholz, 69, couldn't help noting that she is only three years younger.

"I thought, actually, that I was probably past it," she said. "As you get older, your recall and reactions are not quite as good. I could tell when I'm watching 'Jeopardy!' that I'm a little slower than I used to be. I knew I wasn't as fast on the buzzer as others. But if the others missed a question or they didn't know it, I generally did, and then I would be able to win that question."

Anyone wanting to see the Dec. 27 "Jeopardy!" but unable to tune into KARE-11 can catch the show on www.jeopardy.com or, after a day or two, at www.dailymotion.com.

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