Calgary woman who learned English by watching Jeopardy! to compete on the show
CALGARY -- At the age of eight, Kristyna Ng immigrated to Canada from China.
She immediately focused on learning English, leafing through reference books, dictionaries and encyclopedias. That helped her reading, but to learn to speak the language, she watched game shows like Jeopardy!
In a way, Alex Trebek was her ESL tutor.
“It was a soundtrack of my life,” said Ng. “Jeopardy really elevated my English skills because you had to listen to what the clue was, then you had to recall from the back your brain, what is it that it is asking?
"So it added another layer of complexity to being able to understand the language."
Ng now speaks three languages, has a master’s degree in public administration and works as a corporate strategist for the City of Calgary. And on Tuesday night, she'll compete on the famous trivia game show — something she calls a dream come true.
"Never would I imagine being eight-years-old, coming to Canada, learning to speak English and then making it all the way through," said Ng, who grew up in Victoria before moving to Calgary. "This is a blessing. It is. It speaks to the how great of an education system that we have here in Canada.
"We have access to great institutions of learning and it is what we make of it. To know that you could, that I could come here as a first-generation immigrant and integrate into society and be a fully-participating Canadian, and to appear on the show with one of the great Canadians of all times is a miracle in my opinion.”
Ng honed her trivia chops aboard cruise ships, where trivia games are often intense and competitive.
She and her husband, Ritchie (also a trivia buff), spend vacations on cruise ships where they participate in trivia competitions.
"Here's the funny trivia fact, we met on the Diamond Princess, which is on the same ship that's quarantine right now in Yokohama," said Ng. "How I got started on the road to trivia and Jeopardy was through cruise trivia.”
It was on a cruise in 2017 that a fellow competitor convinced her to apply for a spot on the world’s most famous trivia show. She took the online challenge last spring, moved on through regional competitions held in Seattle in July, then in October she got the call she’d been hoping for and started training hard.
“You don't get a study guide. So in terms of my preparation it’s focusing on those categories of which I'm weaker," she said.
"My strengths are history, geography, food, I love food, travel, world capitals. So that is my strength. I have studied on sports, music, opera, American history, the Bible, various gods and goddesses, so focusing on my areas of weakness is certainly really important."
Ng’s husband made flashcards and the couple staged Jeopardy! games in their living room for practice.
"He would quiz me and make me stand there in my heels in my living room or in our bedroom and trying to click on the buzzer and respond in the form of a questions," Ng remembers. "By the time the contestants get there, most of the contestants know most of the answers most of the time, so this buzzer is the make-it or break-it.”
The couple flew to Los Angeles in December for the taping of her episode, where Ng finally met the man who helped hone her English while turning her into a trivia trivial buff. Trebek, 79, has been the face of Jeopaardy! since 1984. Last year he announced to the world has Stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
"What an inspirational story and an inspirational Canadian," said Ng. "He would come right up to the audience and offered them, 'ask me questions.' And so many of the audience members did ask, 'how are you doing?' and he would answer very honestly about his current round of treatment, that things are going well."
The episode Ng is competing in airs Tuesday, Feb. 11. Along with along with millions of viewers, she’ll be watching, but while Ng knows how the game ends, she can’t say anyting about it in advance.
Jeopardy! Producers keep a tight lid on potential leaks to protect the shows integrity.
“We have to sign non-disclosure agreements. The show is very well known for being super tight-lipped," she said. "So all I can say is what surreal experience, so unexpected. And do stay tuned.”