Paly Spanish teacher competes on 'Jeopardy!'

Courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment
Local teacher Trevor Crowell, right, meets host Alex Trebek as he competes on “Jeopardy!” in the game show’s 2019 Teachers Tournament. Crowell reached the semifinals.

When Palo Alto High School Spanish teacher Trevor Crowell found out he was going to appear on “Jeopardy!” his goal was just to have some fun and not embarrass himself on national television. As it turns out, he did better than that – making it to the semifinals of the long-running game show’s 2019 Teachers Tournament.

It was an “amazing, totally once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Crowell said.

In the preliminary round, Crowell won $15,500, with his closest competitor at $9,600. That advanced him to the semifinals, where he ultimately faltered.

Although he went into the Final Jeopardy round in second place with $10,600, he bet nearly all of his money and got the question wrong, leaving him with just $100.

“I went all-in basically and it didn’t work out for me,” Crowell said matter-of-factly.

One of the reasons Crowell remained positive and doesn’t have any hard feelings is because he went into the experience looking to have a good time, not simply to win.

The path to ‘Jeopardy!’

Crowell applied to be on “Jeopardy!” only after seeing an advertisement to take a free online screening test for the show. He completed the 15-minute test in April 2018 and forgot about it.

“I never thought anything would come of it,” he said. “I just thought it was a fun little quiz, a little challenge, and I just went on with my life.”

Then in July he got a call to attend an in-person audition in San Francisco. There, the candidates completed another written test, as well as playing in a mock “Jeopardy!” game.

At one point, he flubbed a question that should have been in his wheelhouse. The category was Central America, but Crowell got confused and guessed a South American country.

“Right after that, they asked me what I did and I had to explain that, well, I was a high school Spanish teacher – at least until the principal saw the tape of the audition, in which case I would no longer be employed,” Crowell joked.

Even though Crowell didn’t think he had a chance of advancing, in February he received a call informing him that he’d qualified for the Teachers Tournament.

The entire tournament was filmed over just a few days in April.

However, when host Alex Trebek announced in March that he had been diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer, Crowell said there was some concern the tournament might not be able to go on.

Ultimately, though, Trebek has continued working, filming dozens of episodes since his diagnosis. Crowell said it was clear during filming that the host was often tired and in pain.

Trebek has been open about the challenges that have come with his cancer diagnosis. He has said in interviews that at times during filming this year, he has been in excruciating pain but has pushed through.

“He was in good spirits the whole time, and it was great to interact with him,” Crowell said.

One thing that stood out to Crowell was that everyone, from Trebek on down, was kind and encouraging, even when a contestant was struggling.

Back home

When Crowell told his students that he was going to be on “Jeopardy!” it was clear that the show isn’t quite as popular with young people as with older genera- tions.

“A couple of them said, ‘Hey, that’s cool. What is ‘Jeopardy!’? Or a couple said, ‘Oh, that’s awesome. My grandma really loves that show,’” said Crowell, recounting their reactions.

Although “Jeopardy!” wasn’t exactly appointment television for many of his students, Crowell discovered that a few were actually already big fans of the show.

When the episodes aired, Crowell had viewing parties with his friends. He also has kept in touch with the other teachers he competed against.

“The whole experience was amazing, just awesome,” Crowell said. “It’s not like it was on my bucket list, (because) it was never something I expected to be able to do, but I’m so, so glad that it happened.”

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