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Minnesota substitute teacher competing in finals of 'Jeopardy!' Tournament of Champions

Sam Kavanaugh returns to the show after winning five games and $156,202.

The Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions begins Thursday with a Minnesotan competing for the top prize. 

Sam Kavanaugh, originally from Carlton, Minnesota, on Jeopardy! in 2019, during which he won five games and $156,202.

Kavanaugh, who graduated from Carleton College in 2013 and now is a substitute teacher based in Minneapolis, returned to the popular gameshow's stage for the annual tournament that started with 15 prior winners competing for $250,000 grand prize.  

According to Pine Knot News, the COVID-19 pandemic left Kavanaugh jobless, so he went full "Olympic mode" to train for his return to Jeopardy!

And so far it's paid off. The quarterfinals for the Tournament of Champions began May 17, with Kavanaugh first competing in an episode that aired May 21. In the game, Kavanaugh was in a close second and it all came down to Final Jeopardy, where he pulled ahead by $341, winning $22,801, to secure his spot in the semifinals, according to the show's website.

In his semifinal game, Kavanaugh ran away with the lead early and stayed ahead, winning $28,600, sending him to the finals of the Tournament of Champions. 

When asked how it felt, Kavanaugh said it is "surreal" but noted it's not over yet, according to a Jeopardy! interview

The two-day finals of the tournament will air at 4 p.m. on Thursday and Friday on NBC. He'll be competing against Veronica Vichit-Vadakan, a librarian from Portland, Oregon, and Jennifer Quail, a wine tasting consultant from Dowagiac, Michigan. 

Another Minnesotan, Nibir Sarma, was also competing in the Tournament of Champions this year. The Eden Prairie native who is a junior at the University of Minnesota took second place in the quarter-final match, winning $12,199. He won enough money to earn him a spot in the semifinals as a wildcard but came in third place in Wednesday's episode with $201. 

Sarma appeared on Jeopardy! last year, winning $100,000 and being named the 2020 College Champion

Buzzy Cohen, a nine-game winner and former Tournament of Champions champion, is the guest host for this year's tournament. Since legendary host Alex Trebek died in November, a variety of people from athletes to journalists and past winners have taken turns hosting Jeopardy!.

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