I’ll Take Mihir Nene ’20 for $27,000, Ken

Years of trivia nights at Ted's paid off for a UConn Engineering alum who lived out his dream of becoming a Jeopardy! champion

Host Ken Jennings and Mihir Nene '20 on the set of the legendary show Jeopardy! (Courtesy of Sony Pictures Television Inc.)

“Who is Mihir Nene?”

That’s the million-dollar question, or in this case, the $27,000 question.

The answer is that Nene is a 2020 University of Connecticut Mechanical Engineering grad, and Associate Engineer at Avangrid who lived out his dream on the iconic trivia game show Jeopardy! during a two-day run in March.

UConn graduate Mihir Nene on the set of Jeopardy!
Mihir Nene (courtesy of Sony Pictures Television Inc.)

“I’ve actually been trying out to be on Jeopardy! for the last 10 or 11 years, originally trying to be on the teen tournament” Nene says. “When I was younger, I watched it every weekday. I just thought I could do as well as the contestants on TV. I knew a lot of the answers.”

Nene trained his brain by reading multiple books a month and attending bar trivia competitions as much as possible, including the one held at Ted’s Bar and Restaurant just off campus.

“In Ted’s it was always packed and raucous, which really helped me hone my competitive skills and my speed,” Nene says.

Every year came with disappointment as he would get through multiple stages of the Jeopardy! application, but never onto the show. Then finally, in December 2021, he got a text that changed his life.

“One day I just got a text from a producer on Jeopardy! asking if I had time to talk. I had a feeling what it was going to be about. When they told me I was on the show and would be taping in January, I was so excited,” Nene says.

But with excitement came worry just as fast. Nene came to California to tape at the peak of the COVID-19 Omicron variant outbreak, and worried that has dreams would unravel before they even got started.

Luckily, the show took ample precaution, with multiple PCR tests performed, maintaining social distance while on set, and performing all eating and other activities outside.

Finally, with all precautions taken, Nene got to live out his childhood dream and compete, which he did in stunning fashion on his first day. Going into Final Jeopardy!, Nene was in last place with $12,500, with the first-place contestant, Margaret Chipowsky, holding $20,600. To win, Nene knew he had to do something drastic.

“When I got to Final Jeopardy! I looked at our scores and I knew I could just barely catch her, so I decided to wager it all on the last question,” Nene says.

That question was “Napoleon’s troops gave him this nickname not to mock him but for showing the courage of an infantryman in battle.” With Nene answering with “What is the Little Corporal?” he walked away the winner, $25,000 richer, with the other contestants betting big as well, but with the wrong answer.

As Jeopardy! champion going into day two, unfortunately Nene’s luck ran out, and he ended up in second place. Asked if losing on the second day was a disappointment, Nene quickly shoots that notion down.

“Losing on the second day wasn’t a gut punch, because I had been playing from behind in both shows, and I was never in a commanding lead,” Nene says. “Everyone who makes it onto the show knows 70-80% of the answers. It comes down to which categories you have a competitive advantage over, and it comes down to your speed. Unfortunately, it was impossible to catch up like I did in the first show.”

Ultimately, Nene is grateful for the experience, and happy to walk away with $27,000. Part of the money will be put into savings, but part will be used to accomplish a goal he had when he graduated in the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Right after graduating in 2020, I was hoping to do some traveling, but the pandemic put that on hold,” Nene says. “Now, with things looking better, I’m hoping to go down to New Zealand.”