Keller High history teacher David Clemmons poses with “Jeopardy” host Alex Trebek. Clemmons is one of 15 teachers in the game show’s 2017 Teachers Tournament. Carol Kaelson for Jeopardy Courtesy photo
Keller High history teacher David Clemmons poses with “Jeopardy” host Alex Trebek. Clemmons is one of 15 teachers in the game show’s 2017 Teachers Tournament. Carol Kaelson for Jeopardy Courtesy photo

Northeast Tarrant

Keller teacher makes ‘Jeopardy’ tourney finals

By Sandra Engelland

sengelland@star-telegram.com

May 09, 2017 12:43 PM

Keller

After months of study, voracious reading and long hours of practice, Keller High teacher David Clemmons still found plenty of challenges when he appeared on his favorite game show, “Jeopardy.”

Clemmons, a U.S. history teacher, is one of 15 teachers in “The 2017 Teachers Tournament” on “Jeopardy.” He won the first round game May 10 and came back from being in the red to win his semifinal round May 15. Now he’s headed to the two-day final round, which airs at 6 p.m. Thursday, May 18, and Friday, May 19, on KTXA Channel 21.

He signed a confidentiality agreement saying he can’t discuss the results of the tournament, but he still had plenty to reveal when he talked to The Star-Telegram earlier this month.

“What you don’t realize until you get there is how fast the game is played,” Clemmons said.

Contestants must answer 60 questions in a 20-minute game.

“Every 20 seconds you’re answering a question,” he said. “When you play the game, it’s just bang, bang, bang.”

Getting into the game

It was a long road for Clemmons, 54, from being a fan of “Jeopardy” since it returned to TV in 1984 to becoming a player. Prospective contestants must register and take an online quiz, which is only offered a few times a year.

Last year, more than 70,000 people took the online test. For Clemmons, the third time was the charm. Of those who take the test, 3,000 are offered the chance to attend a regional audition and then 400 are chosen for the show.

Clemmons took an online test in January 2016, and heard nothing until July, when he learned he was invited to an Aug.9, 2016, audition in Oklahoma City. Then, he heard nothing until the second week of December.

He was sitting in his classroom after school, talking to his wife Cindy on his cellphone when the call came in. The caller ID said “Culver City, Calif.,” and Clemmons hung up with his wife, telling her “Jeopardy” could be on the line.

He thought it might be a prank. His daughter Carly, a Keller High junior, had just come into his room from tennis practice and another teacher from across the hall was visiting. But after quizzing the caller, Clemmons determined it was for real.

The shows would be taped March 21 and 22, so he had three and a half months to prepare.

He put trivia books and cards all over the house: near the TV, the kitchen table, even in the bathroom. Carly introduced him to the game for cellphones, “Quiz Up,” and his older daughter Susannah, a nursing student at Stephen F. Austin University, gave him a book packed with facts and tips about “Jeopardy.”

One thing he learned from his research was that players must wait until Host Alex Trebek finishes a question before they hit their buzzers or the system locks them out. Clemmons practiced with a pretend buzzer as he watched 150 shows on his DVR at home, to get the rhythm of Trebek’s manner.

He also worked with Keller High teachers and counselors in pretend games, complete with bidding. There is a strategy to bidding, and Clemmons developed a formula for various scenarios.

After playing dozens of practice games, he realized he scored much higher when he only answered the questions he knew and didn’t try to guess.

Tournament makes teachers the stars

Finally, it was time to go to California to tape the show. The teachers chosen for the tournament were given the royal treatment. Most contestants are flown in on Tuesday and out on Wednesday. Teachers got to stay Sunday through Wednesday, Clemmons said.

The 15 educators also received $5,000 each just to participate in the show, so they wouldn’t have to spend their own money to bring family members. Clemmons brought his wife and two daughters.

For once, teachers were the stars.

“This was an amazing experience because of one thing,” he said. “Every person on the ‘Jeopardy’ staff had a personal connection to a teacher.”

From the cameraman to the make-up artist to Trebek, everyone Clemmons met wanted to share stories of how much they appreciated their family members who taught or the teachers they’d had and said they knew how hard teachers work.

During breaks in the tapings, contestants and audience members got to ask Trebek questions. Clemmons learned the 76-year-old host enjoys getting his hands dirty doing home improvement projects, something they have in common. Trebek was helping a daughter renovate her southern California home.

Teachers also got $2,500 classroom grants from Farmer’s Insurance, the company that sponsored “The 2017 Teacher’s Tournament.”

Clemmons may use his to buy a few microphones and a good camera so students can make virtual field trips to famous museums and perhaps interview experts or politicians. He also may use some of it to start a “treasure chest” of small artifacts so students can touch an object that brings a history lesson to life.

More about “Jeopardy”

  • Keller High School, 601 N. Pate Orr Rd., will host a “Jeopardy” watch party at 5:45 p.m. Monday, May 15, in the school’s lecture hall.
  • For those looking for their own “Jeopardy” adventure, the next online qualifying test will be given May 30, May 31 and June 1. For more information or to register, go to jeopardy.com/be-a-contestant.

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