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Rockford man credits his childhood curiosity for his recent TV win

Jeopardy Production Team

A Rockford native accomplished one of his lifelong goals and won big while doing it.

Lloyd Sy had a love for absorbing knowledge when he was a child. He immersed himself in reading and loved to learn about other countries and cultures. He also watched the gameshow Jeopardy with his grandparents. He thought it would be cool to be on the show. He tried to get on the teen version of Jeopardy but didn’t make the cut. Then one day last year, he decided to try again, and the rest is history.

The 28-year-old won the gameshow two days straight earlier this month.

“The high point was winning on the first day, because that was a very special victory,” Sy explained, “because the person I beat, Ray, had won 13 games in a row before I beat him.”

Sy said that was the day it dawned on him – he was now a Jeopardy champion.

Sy didn’t scramble to learn new things at the last minute. He says most of his knowledge was picked up over the years thanks to his curiosity. He says he was influenced in many ways.

“I think first and foremost, our local libraries in Rockford, you know, especially the Cherry Valley Library,” he said. “And then also the Rockford Public Library.”

Other inspirations were his parents and grandparents.

He remembered going to Bible class on Wednesdays, which he wasn’t that excited about. But what did intrigue him were the books his father brought him back from the library on those nights.

He explained the role his grandparents played in his quest to learn more about the world around him.

“On my mom's side, they're both teachers, so, they really cared about knowledge,” he said. “And then on my dad's side, my grandpa, he lived in the Philippines. And so, I only saw him every two or three years. But every time I saw him, he would actually give me like a Reader's Digest sort of textbook.”

Sy was between the ages of 6 and 10 at that time. That’s when he fell in love with history and literature.

He carried this admiration with him throughout his academic career. Sy was a part of a gifted program from first grade and throughout high school. He called himself and his classmates nerds.

“The other big thing is that I started doing academic competitions in middle school, but I really got serious about them in high school,” Sy said. “Specifically, I played Scholastic Bowl. In high school. It's kind of a very similar game to Jeopardy, but you played on teams.”

Sy is in the last year of his literature Ph. D. program at the University of Virginia and says he could use some extra money. He said he was sitting at the Starbucks on Perryville Road in Rockford and an idea popped into his head. He could possibly win money if he tried out for Jeopardy again.

“Right there in that Starbucks, I took, you know, the first step of the audition process, which is taking a 50-question test online, and then sort of just proceeded from there,” he said.

That was in July last year. A week later he received an email informing him he made it to step two. This was another 50-question test, but it was done via Zoom. He passed that and was invited later that month to participate in a mock jeopardy competition via Zoom. Sy mentioned that the contestants used ball point pens as their buzzers.

Three months later he got the call. He would finally be a contestant on Jeopardy. Two weeks later, he was in California for the taping.

Sy said he didn’t have a lot of time to prepare.

“I did practice a bunch of questions with my friends,” he said. “You know, a lot of friends of mine from around the country, like got on Zoom and helped me prepare. And from that study process, I sort of learned, like, what categories I was not good at and what categories I was good at.”

The champion left with close to 54 thousand dollars. He said he will save most of the money.

“If this extra money means I can like go buy tacos somewhere more often,” he said, “that's probably the best use it'll get, you know? Yeah, I mean, I have this peculiar love for stuffed animals. And so, I might buy a few more of those in the next few months.”

Sy will continue to focus on finishing his Ph.D. and is currently applying for a college professorship.

The Jeopardy win may or may not increase his chances to land that position, but it is a notable accomplishment that he will carry with him for many days to come.

  • Yvonne Boose is a current corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project. It's a national service program that places talented journalists in local newsrooms like WNIJ. You can learn more about Report for America at wnij.org.
Yvonne covers artistic, cultural, and spiritual expressions in the COVID-19 era. This could include how members of community cultural groups are finding creative and innovative ways to enrich their personal lives through these expressions individually and within the context of their larger communities. Boose is a recent graduate of the Illinois Media School and returns to journalism after a career in the corporate world.