Md. versus Va. rivalry hits ‘Jeopardy!’ as two longtime fans face off

As Kevin Belle and Luigi de Guzman waited in the “Jeopardy!” studio in California earlier this month, they began to worry they would be matched up against each other.

The D.C.-area contestants weren’t fretting over a Maryland vs. Virginia showdown — they just didn’t want to knock each other out of the game show’s Tournament of Champions.

Belle, of Silver Spring, and de Guzman, of Arlington, had become fast friends over the previous months through “Jeopardy!” group chats and Zoom practices. They had bonded over their love for the Washington Nationals, their go-to Metro lines and the pressure of competing in front of viewers across the United States.

So when Belle and de Guzman were selected to compete against each other near the end of their day on set, “it was a very emotional moment,” de Guzman told The Washington Post.

“You had this pit in your stomach … like, ‘Why did it have to be us?’” he said.

The episode, which will air Thursday night on ABC, has prompted headlines and social media posts hyping the matchup as a battle of brains between Maryland and Virginia. Belle, 38, and de Guzman, 43, have enjoyed the banter and played along.

Last week, Belle tweeted a story about the matchup, along with a crab emoji and a message: “It’s on, Virginia.” De Guzman laughed about the article, joking that he would definitely win if “Jeopardy!” ran a driving test.

“People that I know, they’re like, ‘Oh man, you [and Belle] must really hate each other,’” de Guzman said. “It’s totally not that at all.”

In fact, Belle and de Guzman are planning to watch the show together at a bar in Northwest Washington, along with family and friends.

While the two only recently met, Belle and de Guzman grew up about 55 miles apart and each dreamed of appearing on “Jeopardy!”

De Guzman’s family moved to Fairfax from Honduras in 1989, when he was 8 years old. He watched “Jeopardy!” almost every night while eating dinner and played the “Jeopardy!” video game on his Nintendo Entertainment System. He also spent lots of time in his school library, where he pored over nonfiction books.

Belle, meanwhile, grew up in Frederick, Md., and started watching “Jeopardy!” at age 5. He played against his parents each night, and when he started beating them as a middle-schooler, he thought he could appear on the show one day.

Both Belle and de Guzman said they took the show’s online test as college students and failed. Even as they started their careers — Belle works for a nonprofit organization aimed at preserving trails and as a drag performer; de Guzman is an attorney for Paul Hastings — they continued taking the test.

In 2020, de Guzman finally passed. Belle aced the test two years later.

De Guzman first appeared on “Jeopardy!” in July 2022 and made $142,700 from five consecutive victories. Belle initially competed in April and earned $43,000 for his three wins.

Last year, de Guzman watched Belle compete during a broadcast and added him to a group chat with dozens of other “Jeopardy!” players. He and Belle reminisced about the Nationals’ 2019 World Series run but also shared their pessimism for the Wizards. In the past few months, de Guzman and Belle have played each other in dozens of practice Zooms, where they pull questions from past “Jeopardy!” games.

While Belle and de Guzman had only spoken virtually, they met at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, Calif., earlier this month for the Tournament of Champions quarterfinals.

They arrived on the morning of Feb. 6, along with 13 other contestants. Five games, each featuring three contestants, would be recorded that day, but players didn’t know when they would compete or who they would face until moments before their competition.

By the afternoon, six contestants remained in the green room, which had grown quieter throughout the day. When three other contestants were chosen for the day’s penultimate game, Belle and de Guzman knew they would be matched up.

“I definitely shed a couple tears,” Belle said.

Belle and de Guzman also competed against Juveria Zaheer, a psychiatrist from Ontario. The winner will advance to the semifinals along with eight other contestants and remain in the running for the tournament’s $250,000 grand prize.

Neither spoiled the results of Thursday’s episode, saying only that they are looking forward to watching the competition at a halfway point between their homes.

“It’s extra neat,” de Guzman said, “that two of us get to kind of do this together.”

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