Colchester High School students and faculty likely noticed a familiar face flash across their television screens Monday night when humanities teacher George Deane stepped in front of the camera to compete on the popular game show Jeopardy!
The CHS educator ultimately finished third after answering incorrectly in the final Jeopardy! round: the year in which the Department of Energy was created, the Indy 500 had its first female driver and the first president was sworn in under a nickname.
The year? 1977.
Deane, a self-proclaimed super fan, was selected to participate in the special two-week Teachers Tournament after filling out an online test at the urging of colleague Aimee deLaricheliere, who was named a Jeopardy! champion in 2003.
“It was like a dream come true to be able to tie it into my work and school,” Deane said.
In August, show organizers invited Deane to New York for an in-person audition. Shortly thereafter, he learned he’d been chosen for the real thing. The episode was taped in California last March.
Deane said it was tough to keep the outcome quiet. Some students tried to trick him into revealing more information, he joked, by asking what he wore on the second day of the competition.
The 37-year-old has spent the last six years working in Colchester, teaching social studies to sophomores and juniors. Deane lives with his wife and two young daughters in Waterbury, the trio accompanying him to the show’s recording.
“We won’t get to do that again until my wife makes the show,” he quipped. “She’s smarter than I am.”
While the Teachers Tournament functions identically to the typical Jeopardy! rounds, Deane said the special run includes a few more perks, including free transportation and a minimum prize of $5,000 instead of the typical $1,000.
Participating educators also each receive a $2,500 grant to use toward a project at their school, Deane said. He plans to use the money for an outdoor classroom — a designated learning space with seating and community labyrinth for meditative thought.
As a longtime viewer, Deane said he was prepared for several elements of taping. He was surprised, though, by how quickly things moved. The entire tournament was taped in just two days, he said, each taking about 30 minutes to film.
If host Alex Trebek fumbles while reading a question, Deane said the corrected version is recorded during the timed commercial break.
“Most people, aside from ‘did you win?’ what they ask is, ‘what was Alex Trebek like?” Deane said. “You don’t get a chance to talk with him at all … We didn’t meet Alex until he came out for the episode.”
Deane tried to study categories he’d seen come up frequently, like Shakespeare or geography. Since Christmas, Deane said he’s eaten dinner on a placemat with a map of Europe.
As luck would have it, one category quizzed him on the exact opposite hemisphere.
“Jeopardy! is hard because it’s not depth of knowledge as much as it’s breadth of knowledge,” Deane said. “It can be so many different things.”
Deane said he was also aided by his coworkers, who competed against him in mock game play during a “Battle of the Brains” tournament at the school. At home, he watched episodes with a ballpoint pen in hand, “ringing in” to answer in the form of a question.
In California, Deane said the group of selected teachers bonded quickly. In a subsequently formed Facebook group, two participants posted photos of matching Jeopardy! tattoos they received last week.
More than anything, Deane said he was thrilled to represent the district, making sure to say “Colchester” any chance he got. Several students said they were anxiously awaiting the episode. Deane agreed.
“I’m so excited to watch the whole tournament,” he said. “It was one of those ridiculous, cheesy moments where you [say], ‘Man, I’m not going to be disappointed no matter what happens.’”