Carlton, Minn., native Kavanaugh, 30, took home a grand total of $250,000 from the 10-day competition. Second-place winner Jennifer Quail took $100,000 and third-place winner Veronica Vichit-Vadakan netted $50,000.
“I’ve dreamed about this for so long,” Kavanaugh said on the show, which aired Friday, May 28. “This was such a distant, faint thing when I first tried out for ‘Jeopardy!’, and then it slowly grew in my mind.”
Kavanaugh told Forum News Service that he grew up watching “Jeopardy!” with his mom every day after attending school in Carlton and has aspired to compete on the show for as long as he can remember.
He credits his Minnesota experiences as main contributors to his “Jeopardy!” success, citing knowledge gained from his parents, teachers, diverse high school experience and even trivia games played while working at Finke’s Berry Farm in Carlton.
“It’s kind of a lifestyle,” he said.
Now, it would appear Kavanaugh’s hard work paid off, with last week’s competition marking his largest-scale victory on the show.
While Kavanaugh had previously won five “Jeopardy!” games in 2019, he shared that the competition for the “Tournament of Champions” was furious and the questions were more challenging than ever before.
Sam Kavanaugh has won Jeopardy’s “Tournament of Champions,” earning a total of $250,000. (Photo courtesy of Jeopardy Productions, Inc.)
Despite the daunting challenge, Kavanaugh, who is a Minneapolis-based substitute teacher, said he experienced a strange sense of calm during most of the competition, describing the pressure as more internal than external.
He shared that he only really stopped to soak in the experience after one of his idols, “Jeopardy!” guest host and champion Buzzy Cohen, told him to pause for a moment after his victory.
In honor of former “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek, who died late last year, “Jeopardy!” will match the $250,000 grand prize through a donation to the Hope of the Valley Trebek Center for the Homeless.
According to a news release, the Trebek Center will assist up to 300 people per year with shelter, intensive case management, mental health services, job training and placement, substance abuse counseling, housing navigation, life skill training and medical care.
Kavanaugh said he plans to invest portions of his winnings back into the communities of Minneapolis and Carlton through donations to repay them for all they have given him.
He also hopes to use some of it for travel funds to visit his former competitors on the “Tournament of Champions,” explaining that the participants of the show bonded during the filming in April, with hangout sessions in the “Wheel of Fortune” studio and ongoing text threads.
“It’s just been one of the greatest things I’ve ever done,” Quail said during a “Jeopardy!” interview. “This is what we do, and we love it.”