By Frank Wells
CTA members join the first "Jeopardy!" Teachers Tournament.
“This… is… the ‘Jeopardy!’ Teachers Tournament!” With that, the familiar voice of veteran announcer Johnny Gilbert kicks off a series of 10 shows airing for two weeks in May that will feature teacher contestants from across the country, three of whom are CTA members. The tournament comes on the heels of the recent battle pitting all-time champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter against Watson, the IBM supercomputer developed to compete on the show (Watson won).
So who are the CTA members vying for a $100,000 grand prize? Let’s meet our three contestants.
Burlingame Education Association member Charley Tinkham is an eighth-grade history teacher at Burlingame Intermediate School. “The good folks at ‘Jeopardy!’ have been awesome,” he says. “I got the call in front of my students. They’re excited, and they got to participate in a taped greeting that will air on the show.” While like any contestant he would prefer to win, Tinkham says, “I really just want to represent the teaching profession well.”
Kern High School Teachers Association member Viki Radden is an English teacher at South High School in Bakersfield. A fan of the show for 25 years, she says persistence is the key to getting chosen as a contestant. “I tried 15 years ago when it was a pen-and-paper mock test and didn’t make it. I tried online again, did well, and was invited last year to audition.” Radden says being on the show has been “the experience of a lifetime.”
Santa Ana Educators Association member Judd Hess teaches English at Godinez Fundamental High School. He says his wife and son also love the show. When asked why teachers often do well, he says the show requires general knowledge of all kinds. “I was really impressed by the all the other contestants,” he says. “Talking to them, it was obvious they are all very good teachers.”
The three CTA members are competing against 12 other educators from across the country. Maggie Speak, a contestant coordinator for the show, says teachers are among the game’s most skilled players. Other professions that do well are lawyers, foreign service officers, and bartenders. During the taping, Speak acts as a kind of den mother to the contestants, keeping them at ease as they get ready to play before the cameras and the audience.
Host Alex Trebek and announcer Gilbert began their run together on the show 27 years ago, and both men still project genuine enthusiasm and affection for the show. The game’s format, in which contestants are told “answers” and must answer with correct “questions,” has become ingrained in American popular culture, along with its instantly recognizable theme music. During breaks in taping, Trebek talks with the studio audience and tells them this is the first new competition the show has introduced since Kids Week was introduced over a decade ago. “We all can remember a teacher who made a difference in our lives,” he says, speaking fondly of teachers he had growing up in his native Canada.
Prior to taping, contestants play a mock game onstage so that they can get used to viewing the large answer board and practice buzzing in with a response. (If contestants buzz in before Trebek finishes reading the answer, they are locked out for a second while the system resets.)
On rare occasions taping is halted when a contestant comes up with an unexpected answer (or rather, question) — a misspoken fictional character’s name, or an alternative response that may still be valid. A team of judges consisting of show writers and researchers huddles together and quickly does additional research if necessary. Once a decision is made, the show picks back up seamlessly with no indication to the viewer that there was an issue. “We want to make sure we’re fair to every contestant,” says Gilbert. “We want to get it right — and if we miss something or we make a wrong call that would affect the outcome, we’ll bring that contestant back.”
Every teacher will go home with at least $5,000. The champion and runners-up will win $100,000, $50,000, and $25,000 respectively. So who will be the big winner of the “Jeopardy!” Teachers Tournament? The answer is… tune in beginning May 2. Check local listings for times and broadcast channels.
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