Williams teacher competes Friday in ‘Jeopardy!’ tournament

The Williams School English teacher Cory Harris, with “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek, is one of 15 contestants competing in this year’s “Jeopardy!” teachers’ tournament starting May 2. (Photo/Jeopardy Productions, Inc.)
The Williams School English teacher Cory Harris, with “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek, is one of 15 contestants competing in this year’s “Jeopardy!” teachers’ tournament starting May 2. (Photo/Jeopardy Productions, Inc.)

As an English teacher at The Williams School in New London, Cory Harris of Mystic has a lot of pressure on him to get all of the literature questions right when he appears on “Jeopardy!” May 6.

“In any game, usually one of the categories is on literature of some kind,” he said. However, since literature spans so many centuries and countries, there’s a lot for him to know.

A lifelong fan of the game show, Harris was one of 15 teachers from around the country selected to compete in the show’s annual teacher tournament.

He said “Jeopardy!” is “easily the show I’ve seen the most episodes of,” having started watching it as a kid with his parents. He has taken the online test every year for almost 10 years. Last May, he got a phone call saying he had been selected to audition in Boston in June, where prospective contestants are given a 50-question written test and play a few practice rounds of the show.

“It’s one of those things where you go in and make the best impression you can,” Harris said. Contestants also have to answer interview questions to test their television presence in addition to their trivia knowledge.

Harris said he was the last person to be interviewed at the audition. Once contestants pass the audition, they’re eligible for 18 months and can be called at any time to go to Culver City in California to be on the show.

“Whenever I got a phone call, I’d look at my phone to see where it came from,” he said. In January, while he was watching the show, the call from Culver City came, and he flew out to tape the quarterfinals in February.

The teachers’ tournament is set up differently from a regular game, Harris said. Instead of each show having a winning contestant who continues on and two losing contestants who go home, the four highest-scoring non-winners return to the quarterfinal competition as wild-card contestants. The nine-player quarterfinal round was filmed in April at the Daughters of the American Revolution Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C.

Harris can’t give away too much about how he did, but he said there are several measures in place to keep the contestants from finding out about the other rounds. He said they watched a lot of movies while the other rounds were being taped, and contestants don’t meet host Alex Trebek until they start taping the actual show in order to protect the questions.

He said it’s pretty wild to “play a game with a man you’ve been watching since you were seven years old.”

Harris’ episode of the quarterfinal tournament will air May 6, exactly one year from the call to audition in Boston. He said his spot on the show was a fairly quick turnaround considering people who have auditioned multiple times have never been called to be on the show.

The 15 teachers in the tournament are competing for a grand prize of $100,000, but each teacher also received a $2,500 grant to use at their schools. Harris said he plans to use the money to upgrade the school’s literary magazine to include an online component that features videos and other media from the arts departments.

The tournament, presented by Farmers Insurance, started May 2 and runs for two weeks.

a.hutchinson@theday.com

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