By Tammy Scileppi
It has been 34 years since America’s Favorite Quiz Show’s syndicated debut in 1984, and these days 23 million viewers are still tuning in each week to watch — and trying to audition for a spot on — “Jeopardy.”
Everyone knows dapper emcee, Alex Trebek, who has become one of television’s most enduring and iconic figures, engaging millions of viewers worldwide with his winning personality and impeccable delivery of “answers and questions.”
Bayside resident Lee DiGeorge, 37, is one of those diehard Jeopardy fans. When the self-proclaimed trivia geek isn’t glued to his television watching that giant board of clues, the father of two spends his time teaching English and technology at PS/IS 087 in Middle Village. As an educator, he agrees with Trebek when he says, “I think what makes ‘Jeopardy’ special is that, among all the quiz and game shows out there, ours tends to reward and encourage learning.”
Putting their smarts to the test, DiGeorge and 14 other educators from across the country are competing to win a $100,000 prize when the sizzling “Jeopardy” Teachers Tournament — presented by Farmers Insurance in affiliation with the insurer group’s Thank America’s Teachers program — returns. The two-week special began Monday. Contestants will battle it out for a coveted spot in the next Tournament of Champions, set for a later date. It’s the biggest battle of the minds and the top money winners, as well as the champions of the Teacher’s Tournament and the College Tournament, will face off for $250,000.
Farmers Insurance will present each contestant with a $2,500 educational grant to fund classroom projects.
With this grant, DiGeorge said he’s getting additional tablets for the special education students in his classroom and is thankful for the much-needed help.
“Farmers has been wonderful enough to give us a grant for our classroom. They give out grants to many teachers; everyone should apply,” he said. “Sometimes, there isn’t enough money for supplies and I personally believe there needs to be a larger emphasis on the special education population, as I have a special relationship with autism. My daughter is a special little girl.”
As a hardcore trivia player, DiGeorge admits he’s “a gigantic fan” of final “Jeopardy.”
“That one clue can change the entire game. It’s nerve wracking and great television,” he said.
Turns out DiGeorge and his geeky friends have won numerous trivia competitions in the past, recently finishing in second place at Boston’s Geek Bowl and winning $6,000 as a team. The group has traveled as far as Seattle to compete in other trivia competitions, he said.
So, you can imagine how excited he was about taking part in his favorite quiz show and meeting Trebek during the taping of the tournament.
“When the music started to play, the nerves really hit hard. But, it was so much fun and a fantastic experience,” DiGeorge said. “My family and friends were excited as well, but they are completely used to my trivia geekiness.”
And his students were psyched about their teacher’s celebrity status, too, according to DiGeorge.
“However, I’m pretty sure that it was merely because I would be absent for a few days,” he joked.
One day, the “Jeopardy” addict did something a bit crazy to feed his obsession.
“I raided the hardware store and got toilet paper holders to practice the buzzer while watching along on TV,” DiGeorge said. “As long as I could buzz in and answer before the TV, I would give myself points. This score (called a Coryat score) lets you play against the board to see how you’d fare.”
Since he started teaching in Middle Village 13 years ago, DiGeorge said he’s always had an excellent rapport with all his students.
“They’re used to me jumping on tables and throwing things around the room to make lessons memorable,” he said. “My middle school students are awesome. They put up with me.”
DiGeroge said there’s nothing he’d rather be doing than educating the next generation.
“I love teaching. I don’t think there’s anything else I would rather do,” he said. “I love getting someone to understand something they might had not understood before.”
If he got the $100,000 grant money, the hardworking dad said he’d be “looking forward to doing some fun and unexpected stuff” with it.
“There’s a bunch of music festivals I would love to go to, as well as give some wonderful gifts to the people I love,” he said.
Great teachers are crucial to kids’ futures and some of the brightest in America were chosen to participate in the challenging Teachers Tournament. It all started with an online test that was given back in early 2017, according to DiGeorge, who said that after he was told he had passed, was subsequently invited to an in-person test, interview and mock game, a few weeks later.
“When I finally got the phone call, I almost choked on the food I was eating at the time,” he said.
DiGeorge is one of a select few to have the opportunity to compete in the show, which he watches with his daughters Zoey, 7, and Brynn, 5. And he isn’t taking the opportunity for granted.
“I love the fact that I can compare my knowledge against the best minds of the world playing the game,” he said. “There’s always something satisfying about knowing something that most others don’t.”