Math teacher places 2nd on 'Jeopardy'

While in the studio awaiting his chance to answer Alex Trebek, math teacher William Thill realized “Jeopardy” involved a lot of luck.

“When you get to the show and watch other games, you start to recognize that it’s such a game of luck and inches,” Thill said. “Any one of those three people can win on any day.”

Last December, Thill found out that he had been selected to be on an episode, which aired April 6. To qualify, he had taken an online test and after passing, he was randomly picked to be interviewed.  After the interview and a mock Jeopardy game, Thill was chosen to be on the show.

Unknowingly, Thill had been preparing for Jeopardy since childhood. While preparing for the National Spelling Bee, Thill was introduced to a “world of knowledge through words unique to the Jeopardy situation.” The variety of the words and their derivations helped give Thill a wide breadth of knowledge.
After finding he was going to be on the show, Thill began to train actively. He used questions from the Jeopardy archive and found that the show’s questions are usually about Shakespeare, geography or history. Thill also practiced how to buzz in.

“It’s probably as important as knowing the questions,” Thill said. “You use a pen with a nice clicker.”
But even after preparation, Thill felt a small sense of apprehension. On the podium, Thill said he was too busy looking for the question on the large screen or stopping himself from guessing to be nervous.

“The biggest mistake is guessing too much, I think,” Thill said.

Thill described a Jeopardy ‘zone,’ in which he said he couldn’t even glance at his score because the game moved too quickly.

“When you’re playing, you become very focused,” Thill said. “You just want to figure out where the clue is on the board.”

Though Thill withheld from guessing many times, he did miss two questions: a Daily Double and the Final Jeopardy. With the two he said, “I couldn’t make the connection.”

For the Final Jeopardy, the question asked to identify a boy from ‘down east.’ The boy referred to L.L. Bean and the ‘down east’ to Maine. Though Thill missed the Final Jeopardy, he found he was lucky with two other categories: Impressionist Art and Words that End in ‘–YX’. Thill had visited an impressionist LACMA exhibit beforehand and the background with the spelling bee helped him identify obscure words like calyx and oryx.

Walking away from the studio with his second place prize of $2,000, Thill was satisfied. “I was really hoping to win,” said Thill.  “But I think after watching two or three games you realize that the outcome of the game, no matter how well you prepare, is really up to the stars. And you come at peace with that very quickly.”

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