area with the most finalists in this year's "Jeopardy!" tournament of champions.

Question: What is Washington, D.C.?

Five out of the 15 finalists were drawn from the D.C. area -- contestants with just the right combination of game smarts and what "Jeopardy!" officials like to call "on-air personality." So what better place to look for candidates for a teen-age edition of the game show?

That's why host Alex Trebek was in town recently addressing a roomful of young hopefuls, including some from as far away as Philadelphia, at the Sheraton Grand in D.C. "The teen tournament is on for two weeks," Trebek said. "So we can't afford any duds, you guys. If you don't have a personality, you can't compete. It can be grueling; you gotta hang tough."

The tough were looking mighty tender in braces, frosted jeans, natty blazers and carefully knotted ties. Only 12 of one batch of 75 kids passed the 26-minute, 100-question written test, secure in the knowledge that Darwin sailed on the Beagle and that Valerie Bertinelli married Eddie Van Halen. (Only one teen will be chosen, sometime in December, for the tournament in early January.)

As the losers from the afternoon test session were dismissed, the dozen twitchy finalists got to strut the stuff so prized in this town: telegenics. Public effervescence.

"Project! Really whoop-dee-do it up!" demanded the contestant coordinator as she put the kids through a one-minute "tell us about yourself" stand-up and a series of mock games of "Jeopardy!" Sweaty palms were poised over the bells that subbed for electronic buzzers. There was no room for the Wimp Factor.

"I'll take 'The Constitution' for $400, please."

The coordinator wrinkled her nose. "A little more energy. COME ON, NOW."



It was in this mock-media crucible that the merely brainy lost ground to the bubbly. The contrast was most apparent in two D.C.-area finalists.

"I probably screwed up on the personality part," confessed James Caparis, of Hyattsville, a shy, bespectacled 17-year-old from Gonzaga High School. James blew everyone away with the highest written score. He watches "Jeopardy!" with a calculator to test his scores against the TV contestants'.

In all likelihood, not even Pat Caddell could turn sweet, smart James into a media animal. Not so for Jonathan (Ogi) Ogas of Arnold, Md. Ogi thinks he'd like to go into economics, maybe investment banking. Thinks his 3.7 average at Severna Park Senior High may get him into Stanford or Harvard. The Big O had the high energy that seemed to delight the contestant coordinators. And perhaps just the right philosophical perspective, too.

"Hey, I've led a normal teen's life up to now," Ogi explained. "Maybe this is my Andy Warhol 15 minutes. Besides, if you don't get fame, at least you get a box of Rice-A-Roni and Lee Press-on Nails."