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Columbia native’s reign ends on ‘Jeopardy’

Nilanka Seneviratne, right, poses with ‘Jeopardy’ host Alex Trebek.
Nilanka Seneviratne, right, poses with ‘Jeopardy’ host Alex Trebek.

It was fun while it lasted.

That’s the sentiment of Midlands residents who were following the exploits of a native son as he competed on the game show “Jeopardy.”

Columbia native Nilanka Seneviratne competed on Friday’s episode of “Jeopardy” as the returning champion, but a mistake and large wager in the “Final Jeopardy” round ended his reign after one successful day.

After winning $7,601 on Thursday’s broadcast, Seneviratne was dethroned when he incorrectly answered on the subject of 19th Century Europe. While all three contestants missed the answer (J’accuse), Seneviratne’s wager of $8,301 knocked him into second place.

It was an up-and-down show for Seneviratne. He was in third place after the “Jeopardy” round, but vaulted to the lead – going from a total of $2,600 to $12,100 – in “Double Jeopardy.”

During Friday’s show, Seneviratne was involved in a light moment. Toward the end of the “Double Jeopardy” round, he got one of the coveted “Daily Double” questions, or answers in “Jeopardy” terminology. Unfortunately for Seneviratne, the category was ballet, an area of study he presumably doesn’t have a wealth of knowledge in given his wager – $100.

Born and raised in Columbia, Seneviratne grew up attending Rosewood and Brennan elementary schools, Hand Middle School and Dreher High School before studying psychology at Clemson.

After graduation, he came back to Columbia, took some classes at the University of South Carolina and also volunteered in Sri Lanka before settling in Washington, D.C., in 2005.

Seneviratne is a deputy director at PartnersGlobal, which helps create nonprofits around the world.

During the introduction section of the show, Seneviratne was grilled about his job by “Jeopardy” host Alex Trebek, who called his profession – International Development Non-Profit Professional – a mouthful.

When he was a child, Seneviratne said, his parents were strict about what television shows he could watch. But they always made exceptions for the nightly news and “Jeopardy.”

Though he’s been a fan of “Jeopardy” for years, he decided to apply to be a contestant on a whim. He took the online test, which about 60,000 people take every year. Of those, 3,000 are selected to advance to the interview stage.

Luckily for Seneviratne, the interviews in Washington were a block away from his office. He was selected as one of the 400 people per year to fly out to Los Angeles to compete on the show.

“I was super excited,” he said. “I felt like had a chance.”

Seneviratne said he still considers Columbia his home and comes back often to visit family, including his mother, who is a teacher at Montessori School of Columbia.

“Columbia is still near and dear to my heart,” he said.

Staff writer Jane Moon Dail contributed to this report.

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