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Who's Larissa Kelly? Jeopardy's Biggest Female Winner and a 2009 Finalist

By March 20, 2009

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Everyone recognizes Ken Jennings as Jeopardy!'s biggest winner in the 24-year history of the popular TV game show. But who is the top female winner? She's Larissa Kelly, a graduate student from El Cerrito, California, whose non-tournament earnings totaled $222,597 after seven Jeopardy! appearances from May 20-28, 2008. That total makes her the third-highest all-time non-tournament money winner.

Kelly is back in the news as Jeopardy! broadcasts its 2009 Tournament of Champions, taped in Las Vegas two months ago. Last night she won in a semifinal game and she'll be returning as a finalist next week.

But who is Larissa Kelly? Several bloggers have confessed their admiration for the young, pleasant-looking, unfailingly calm contestant. They're happy just to watch, but some of us want to know more about this incredibly bright woman.

Well, for starters, Kelly is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in Latin American history at the University of California at Berkeley.

And according to "Grad Spotlight - Stories for the Berkeley Graduate Community," Kelly grew up outside Boston in Newton, Massachusetts; in elementary and middle school she competed in the National Geography Bee, and in high school she was a quizbowl contestant. She continued with quizbowl during undergraduate and graduate school, and met her husband Jeff Hoppes while both competed at Princeton. The couple married in the summer of 2002.

The desire to compete on Jeopardy! runs in her family. Her husband played against Ken Jennings, losing to the show's biggest moneywinner (more than $2.5 million over 74 games); her sister Heather was also a former contestant. But Larissa Kelly is the only family member to have won.

Kelly's initial appearance on Jeopardy! was the show's 5,467th episode; on that day she won $45,200.

If you want to watch the calm, poised, quietly confident Larissa Kelly in action, here's a clip at Doug Pratt's dograt.com site

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