Monday, February 13, 2012
Plano teacher competes on Jeopardy!
Catherine Whitten competed in the game show's annual Teachers Tournament.
Jasper High School teacher Catherine Whitten crossed one more item off of her bucket list last month when she starred in one of the most popular game shows of all time.
Whitten was one of 15 players selected to compete in the Jeopardy! Teachers Tournament. She traveled to Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, Calif., for the taping, which will begin airing on Wednesday and continues through February 28.
"It was an amazing experience, it was certainly memorable," Whitten said. "I had an absolute blast."
The Jeopardy! Teachers Tournament was introduced for the first time last year and puts a national spotlight on the nation's brightest K-12 educators. The winner of the tournament receives the $100,000 grand prize and a guaranteed spot in the Tournament of Champions. The second place winner earns a minimum of $50,000 and third place gets $25,000. Each contestant received a Classroom Jeopardy! unit for their school courtesy of Educational Insights, maker of Classroom Jeopardy!.
"This year's teachers are not only intelligent but incredibly quick on the buzzer," host Alex Trebek said. "This will be one of the closest tournaments in the show's history. I can't think of any other one that's been more evenly matched."
Although Whitten has been an avid Jeopardy! junkie for years, she had never tried out for a spot on the show. Between competing in a TV program that has been on the air for more than 40 years and meeting Trebek, Whitten said the opportunity was a once-in-a-lifetime experience she will never forget.
"I was really nervous going in, I'm not a big fan of being in the spotlight so it was kind of nerve-racking," Whitten said. "[Trebek] doesn't get to spend a whole lot of time with the contestants. It's a very surreal moment when you're being taped and you're clapping and you look over and say, 'oh my gosh, there's Alex Trebek.' Having been a fan for so long, he's a bit of an icon."
After completing an online quiz early last year, she was invited to an in-person screening in Kansas City last June based on the results. After the screening, Whitten said it was simply a matter of waiting for a phone call. She finally heard back from them in the beginning of November. After giving the basic information to the school's administrative staff, Whitten said it was "all uphill" from there.
"I was like, 'oh gosh I need to study, I need to cram,'" Whitten said. "I had these grand plans of what I needed to brush up on; there was a lot of prep work being done for sure."
Whitten used her DVR to catch up on both daytime and evening episodes, her weekends consisting mostly of Jeopardy! marathons. She also took advantage of studying from the older shows that were archived online.
Whitten teaches humanities and European history courses at Jasper and said she has always had an affinity for social sciences such as art history, literature, and the performing arts, something she said gave her an edge in the competition. Being the school's Wiz Quiz coach at Jasper also helped keep her mind sharp and her responses quick, she said.
"That in and of itself helped considerably," she said. "I think probably my biggest advantage going in was just being such an avid reader to begin with. I've read voraciously my entire life, and you remember it and every once in a while it comes up on Jeopardy!. A liberal arts education certainly helps."
Whitten's students and her 12-year-old son, Diego, served as her support system and personal cheerleading squad. While a few from her class took the time to film their own personal greeting to show their support (which will also be aired during the show), her son's support was a bit more discreet but just as heartfelt.
"I kind of expected this to happen eventually because she's so smart," Diego said. "She watches it every day when she gets home; she's still doing that now. I guess it's pretty awesome. I don't think I could ever get that smart."
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