Lexington Latin teacher Claire Bishop is the runner up in the 2018 "Jeopardy!" teachers tournament.
The University of Kentucky graduate and Tates Creek High School educator had a strong showing throughout the tournament, but Kansas City, Missouri second grade teacher Larry Martin proved to be the dominant player in event, winning the competition in the final, which aired Friday night.
Martin rolled up a two-day total of $31,799 to claim the top prize of $100,000 in the teacher's tourney. Bishop put together a two-day total of $20,601, largely thanks to the second day of the finals, to claim the $50,000 second place prize. Midvale, Utah 9th and 10th grade math teacher Steve Mond claimed the $25,000 third place prize.
"When I found out I was going to be on the 'Jeopardy!' teachers tournament, I didn't expect to be a finalist," Bishop said, Friday night. "I thought it would be really cool to get to play in a semi-final game."
Bishop made it to the finals after losing her first-round game to Martin, but earning enough to make the semi-finals as a wildcard. She said she and her husband John, who she said was her trainer for the tournament, researched betting strategy to be a wildcard and figured she needed nearly $15,000 to make it. She had $13,800 in the first round. In the semis, she had a strong game, winning $31,801 and a spot in the finals.
But there she met Martin, who was just as strong as he was in the first round. While to the viewer it may have seemed Martin was the bane of Bishop's tournament, Bishop said he was anything but that.
"He is an amazingly kind and nice man," Bishop said of the champion. "He was my bud, and he sat next to me for the quarterfinals, and he was cheering for me — he and I were whispering answers back and forth — and he was genuinely excited for me when he found out I was going to get to play again as a semi-finalist." She added, with a laugh, "He was probably happy I was a finalist, because he was like, 'I played her once before, and I beat her, so I can probably do it again.'"
Martin was amused by Bishop's assessment and replied in an email, "I was thrilled that she made it into the finals because I was rooting for the success of such a wonderful person and instant pal, who was also the best player I watched. In fact, watching her semifinal battle against Rachel Niegelberg was a bit unnerving, and I knew that whichever of them emerged from that match was going to be hard to beat."
Bishop also said she believes host Alex Trebek took Latin at some point because, "he seemed into the fact that I taught Latin."
Bishop said she and her husband did a lot of research and coaching preparing for the tournament. Exercises like using a Google number generator to give her a year and she had to name the president and vice-president paid of in categories like Friday night's "putting the vice in vice-president," where she got several answers right.
Bishop also says things like coaching the academic team at Tates Creek, in which contestants also "buzz in" to answer, were helpful. But the Louisville native gives a lot of credit to her education at UK, where she received her bachelor's degree in classics in 2012 and a masters in teaching world languages, masters in classics, and a graduate certificate from the Institute of Latin studies in 2014.
"People dis the big state school experience, but doing the honors program, doing the Gaines fellowship in the humanities, those were the kinds of programs at UK that made my big state school experience seem smaller and more intimate, and allowed me to take a lot of different types of classes in a lot of different types of fields," Bishop said. "That's fueled my interest in knowing lots of different things."
Watching the tournament, Bishop says she has enjoyed hearing from people enthusiastic about her being on the show, and she was even amused by a student who was openly pulling for Martin — "there's always someone who wants to be the contrarian in the room," she said.
While the tournament played out over two weeks on TV, it was actually just two days in March, with first round games on Tuesday and the semi-finals and finals on Wednesday, meaning she played three games on the final day.
Not expecting to be in the finals, Bishop said she did not research strategy for the the two-day contest as much, otherwise she might not have taken as big a gamble on the first day's now-infamous Final Jeopardy question.
Bishop finished the Jeopardy and Double Jeopardy rounds in second place with $9,400, but Martin nearly doubled her total with $18,400. Mond had $5,600.
Bishop made an aggressive bet of $8,000, confident of the Final Jeopardy question's category: school supply words. Then came the question: Adding “P” to a word for a chronic back condition gets you this synonym for graphite or pencil lead.
We'll save you the pain the contestants went through: What is plumbago?
Stumped, Bishop went for humor, writing "What is pscoliosis?"
"I knew plumbum and lumbar, but not lumbago, and plumbar didn’t sound like a legitimate answer," Bishop wrote in an email. "So I figured why not be funny! I also felt better since it was a triple stumper."
Actually, she's kind of amazed she had the presence of mind to be funny, as she said watching the rounds she has seen things happen she simply does not remember and there have been questions she got wrong on the couch that she got right on the show.
"The brain's ability to cope and function properly under extreme stress is truly remarkable, and I can attest to that first hand," Bishop said.
While the signs in front of her would seem to indicate she won more than $50,000 in the tournament, Bishop said she told fans like her students to think of the money totals as merely points. Competitors, she said, earned set amounts for each level of the show, and so the $50,000 for coming in second was her prize money, along with a $2,500 grant from Farmer's Insurance's Thank America's Teachers, which she is using to start a free reading library of Latin novellas for her students.
But the excitement for her was being on the "fun and uplifting" show that she has watched from childhood and that celebrates education and knowledge, and she's been happy to represent the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
"Hopefully I was able to show people that there are good teachers in the State of Kentucky and there are people that like knowing things and think being smart is cool and important," Bishop said, "and there are people in Kentucky schools trying to pass those things on to students."