North Shore folks are either really smart, or really good at game shows. For the second time in a year, a record-breaking contestant on ABC’s long-running trivia program “Jeopardy!” has hailed from our area.
The latest is Highland Park native Michael Bilow, who walked away from the show with more than $97,000 after being a three-peat winner on back-to-back episodes recently. Though his reign ended April 1, Bilow was one of the most successful contestants in the show’s history. On Tuesday, March 31, his prize money for the episode totaled more than $57,000, which made him the fourth-highest earner on the show only a few spots behind mega contest Ken Jennings.
“To be in the same category as these champions who are incredibly well-known — and loved or hated — is amazing,” Bilow said to Chicago Tribune. He also noted that his parents (a doctor and lawyer who still live in Highland Park) helped him study for the show, which likely brought back memories of the time the 2005 Deerfield High School graduate was captain of the school’s Scholastic Bowl and helped the team advance and win fourth in state.
Bilow is now a PhD student of UCLA’s computer science department and had previously tried out to be on a round of College Jeopardy in 2007 and again in 2013 but ultimately did not make the final cut until this year. It’s an impressive feat just to be on the show as nearly 100,000 people per year take an online test to try out, a rep told the Tribune. Only 2,500 or so come in for auditions and from there only 400 people get air time.
Bilow’s championship may bring back memories of Kenilworth’s Julia Collins who was another “Jeopardy!” anomaly in the 2014 season. Collins was victorious over an incredible course of 20 episodes. She became the runner up for consecutive appearances (only bbehind Jennings) and took home nearly half a million dollars. She was also the first contestant from Illinois to pass the five-game barrier and just the 28th in show history to have done so according to a report on “The Wire” that tracked where the game show’s biggest winners lived. Though it should be noted that “Jeopardy” only allowed contestants to win more than five games beginning in season 20, about eleven years ago.
Collins’ eighth grade yearbook might have predicted her win with classmates forecasting “Julia Collins will be the ‘Ten Time Jeopardy Champion’ winning each tournament twice,” she told CNN Money. Perhaps her classmates knew what we all did—kids enrolled in North Shore schools are pretty academically advanced.
Both Bilow’s alma mater Deerfield High School and Collins’ alma mater New Trier (as well as Glenbrook North and Stevenson High Schools) were listed on data website Niche’s Top 50 Public High Schools in the United States. Results were based on state-assessment proficiency, the colleges that students go on to, AP enrollment and exam pass rates, graduation rates,and composite ACT and SAT scores where North Shore schools surpass many in the nation.
So think you have what it takes to be the next North Shore bigwig? You can start the contestant search on the show’s website but be forewarned it’s not all roses and dollars. Collins penned a story for Huffington Post that gave 13 insider tips of how it all works, and it’s not all an incredible experience. She called it “intense,” and said you don’t get the money right away and when you do people start coming out of the woodwork when you do make it big.
The whole experience of being on a game show was also captured in detail by Justin Peters, a Lake Bluff native, who wrote a piece for Slate about his appearance on “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” Unlike Bilow and Collins, he says, “I was one of the biggest losers in [Millionaire] history” after goofing on the penultimate $500,000 question. Though Peters said he learned from it “the tolerance for risk of failure, not financial failure but actual failure—the realization that you can’t actually do that thing you dream of doing.”
Or you could just achieve that other dream of winning the lottery—these three Glenview residents have made that look much easier to do.