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Penn State Students Take Center Stage In NBC’s ‘Capital One College Bowl’

Everyone loves a good game of trivia. It’s a fun way to pass the time with your friends or flex in a bar filled with over-competitive college students. Sometimes, however, a very lucky few get to showcase their trivia skills on national TV.

That’s exactly what happened to Emma Foley, Levi Showalter, and Ryan Zhang — three Penn State students who appeared on NBC’s “Capital One College Bowl,” which is hosted by Peyton and Cooper Manning.

The three students recently appeared on an episode against Syracuse, when they won and moved on past the qualifying round. It was the first of a series of highlights for the trio, who didn’t even know each other before the show was filmed.

“We just met each other the day before [filming], and it was a little awkward because we’re kind of awkward people,” Foley said.

Despite their awkwardness in the beginning, their respective love of trivia united them and gave them a common bond. But, they couldn’t have forged that bond had they hadn’t each individually decided to take the initiative and apply to be on the show.

“Not many people have the opportunity to [go on a gameshow], and I thought it would be a really great way to put myself out there and try something new,” Showalter said. “It turned out to be a really awesome time.”

Foley shared similar sentiments, noting certain passions outside of trivia also drew her into this opportunity.

“I’ve always loved trivia, and I’ve watched a lot of trivia gameshows as a kid. It was always my thing,” Foley said. “I also used to do a lot of theater in middle school, so the idea of having to perform didn’t scare me at all. This was a great opportunity where I could do something I was good at and maybe win some money out of it!”

Despite the bright studio lights, the pressure of being on TV, and the constant back-and-forth between the Mannings, the Penn State trio held up well in the qualifying match. There are three rounds in the qualifying competition: the Kickoff, the One-on-One, and the Two-Minute Drill.

The Kickoff allows teams to choose one of four categories and answer a face-off question. If the team gets it right, it earns the right to answer two follow-up questions. If one is answered wrong, the opposing team has the opportunity to steal.

The One-on-One pits each member of the team against a member of the opposing team in a face-off category. Three questions are asked per category and the person who buzzes in the fastest while getting the correct answer earns the points.

The Two Minute Drill is the last part of the competition. Teams have two minutes to answer as many questions as they can to earn more points than the other. At the end of this round, the team with the most points wins.

While the Penn State team was impressive in the Kickoff, it was in the One-on-One rounds where the trio was truly able to shine.

“I was genuinely in shock — just staring at Levi and Ryan thinking there was no way we just swept those categories,” Foley said.

Showalter, a plant sciences major, also talked about how lucky he was that certain categories were up for grabs in this part of the competition.

“When they threw out the category of agriculture, I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, this could not have been more perfect.’ It definitely gave us a confidence boost for the next round,” Showalter said.

Foley and Showalter answered all three questions in their respective categories correctly. Despite the fact he wasn’t able to do the same, Zhang showed how committed he was to his team by letting his teammates have categories they were the strongest in.

In the end, Penn State handed Syracuse the loss, and the trio moved on to the next round. This meant the experience they embarked on together, despite not knowing each other before filming, got to continue another day.

“It’s kind of insane to process. I live in kind of a small town, and when word gets out that you’re going to be on NBC, word gets around fast,” Showalter said. “It’s nice to enjoy my 15 minutes of fame.”

Foley agreed, saying she also has yet to process the fact that she is actually on a TV show.

“For me, it was one of the craziest experiences of my life, especially when you finish it and you’re like, ‘Oh my god, I just filmed a TV show!’ and then you go back home to your family without being able to say anything,” Foley said. “It feels like a fever dream, and I haven’t completely processed it.”

The journey isn’t over yet, and the trio still has an opportunity in the coming weeks to earn the “Capital One College Bowl” trophy and scholarship money all to themselves. The show will continue to air on Fridays on NBC.


Ryan Zhang wasn’t able to be interviewed for this story due to conflicting class schedules.

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About the Author

Owen Abbey

Owen Abbey was a Secondary Education major before he graduated from the wonderful institution known as Penn State. When he was not writing for the blog, he enjoyed rooting for the Baltimore Orioles and Ravens, supporting Penn State basketball and softball, dreaming of all of the ways he would win the TV show "Survivor," and yes mom, actually doing school work. All of this work prepared him to teach his own class of students, which was always his true passion. He still can be found on Twitter @theowenabbey and can be reached for questions and comments at [email protected]

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