At first, it’s uncertain what would make Jeremy N.K. Tran ’09 stand out.
He has his share of common prefrosh anxieties: he isn’t sure what he will study or which clubs he’ll join. He feels an obligation to his parents to do well in college. A native of Westminster, Calif., he has only been to the East Coast a few times and can’t predict how he’ll react to moving 3,000 miles from home to attend Harvard.
But though he is, like the rest of his classmates, uncommonly bright, few can boast the TV-star status he has earned this summer as one of 10 contestants on ABC’s summer reality show “The Scholar.”
Tran didn’t win the competition, which pitted select high-schoolers against a rigorous regime of quizzes, challenges, interviews, and evaluations by a three-member “Scholarship Committee” in a quest for a full-ride college scholarship. He did, however, come away with a $20,000 scholarship and a fame that will likely follow him into the Yard this fall.
After taking his last AP exam, but long before taking his Harvard placement tests in math and writing, Tran was poked, prodded, and scrutinized before being pulled under the bright lights of prime time television.
To apply to the show, he says he filled out a 20-page application and submitted a 10-minute video of himself. He and a few hundred others were called back for interviews, which he and a few dozen others survived. After taking intelligence, personality, and film tests, the contestants recorded confessional videos.
“They asked us to talk about the tests if we wanted to. Most of us who made the show talked about the other kids,” Tran says.
“Max thought Alyssa was cute,” he says of two of the other contestants. Alyssa is the only other Scholar who will attend Harvard next year, while Max will matriculate to Columbia.
According to ABC publicist Amber K. Gereghty, Alyssa is in Europe and could not be reached for comment. The contestants were only identified on the show by their first name.
Once on the show, students lived together in a house, forming a mix that MTV’s The Real World has demonstrated can be combustible. Despite the potential for conflict and competition among top students competing for big bucks, Tran said the Scholars quickly formed friendships and treated the competition professionally.
“We became friends, which made it very difficult [to compete]. I’ve never been an extremely competitive person,” Tran says. “I think what we told ourselves is once we stepped outside the house we could have our game faces on.”
Tension built as the contestants reached a first moment of truth—five of the students were to be cut from the competition.
“It came down to the wire. It started being really stressful for everyone,” Tran says. “We all wanted to make it to the finals so badly. I think everyone was pretty stressed besides those who had already made the finals.”
Compounding the uncertainty of the competition was the nebulous nature of the scholarship committee’s standards, which Tran said some deciphered better than others.
“They didn’t tell us exactly what they were looking for,” Tran said. “They kept telling Alyssa to be less aggressive and for me to be more aggressive. It was difficult for us to guess what they were looking for.”
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