Here’s the answer: “A 42-year-old chemistry teacher at Monticello High School and father of four daughters, this ‘Jeopardy!’ fan not only realized a longtime dream to get on the quiz show, but also came in second in the ‘Jeopardy!’ Teachers’ Tournament.”
You’re correct if you just buzzed in with “Who is Michael Farabaugh?” Even if you forgot to phrase your response in the form of a question.
Farabaugh won $50,000 in the tournament show that aired Tuesday by buzzing his way through questions ranging from the familiar (the elements of the periodic table) to the flustering (composers, which, luckily, he’d just studied).
“It’s a bit of a bucket-list thing,” Farabaugh said. “There’s no doubt luck was part of it.”
Competition aside, Farabaugh became fast friends with champion Colby Burnett, a history teacher from Chicago, and third-place finisher Kate Wilson, an English teacher from Montgomery, Ala.
The popular quiz show airs at different times in the three finalists’ hometowns, Farabaugh said. Wilson planned to watch the final match with her students at 9:30 a.m., while Burnett’s local television station airs it at 2 p.m. Charlottesville fans can see “Jeopardy!” at 7:30 p.m. weeknights on WVIR-TV NBC29.
All of the tournament’s competitors already had a love for teaching in common, and there was a strong sense of collegiality. Farabaugh said that fellow competitors and their family members often stuck around to cheer from the audience when their own matches were done.
“It was amazing to me how fast we were able to become friends,” Farabaugh said. “The camaraderie was totally there. We had that love of ‘Jeopardy!’ and that wanting to be on the show.”
Farabaugh said his strategy changed as he advanced through the tournament.
“The first game I played, I knew it was a matter of getting a wild card,” he said. But the longer a contestant stays on the program, the longer he or she wants to, so taking risks becomes more important.
Farabaugh was delighted when he selected a category called “Science Fun” and discovered that the correct response would double his money. When the Daily Double popped up, he confidently put $5,000 of the $9,000 he’d won at that point on the line — and was relieved to get quizzed about a topic dear to a chemistry teacher’s heart: the periodic table.
Of course, nerves aren’t shy about buzzing in, either. Once the bright lights go on and your hand reaches for the buzzer, “your mind kind of goes on autopilot,” he said. “You have no idea what comes out of your mouth.”
Farabaugh and his wife, Karen, live in Charlottesville with their four daughters — Megan, 16; Emily, 14; Colleen, 12; and Kristen, 9. Education is important to the family, so the girls’ college fund leads the list of potential uses for the prize money.
Farabaugh said he enjoys teaching in the Summer Enrichment Program, which is presented by the University of Virginia and the Curry School of Education. He usually teaches science classes on the St. Anne’s-Belfield School campus for the program, but he said he once taught a “Jeopardy!”-inspired class for fellow trivia buffs.
That lighthearted course focused on random bits of knowledge from a fan’s perspective, exploring the idea of what makes a good trivia question and why it’s so much fun to amass odd and seemingly obscure tidbits of information. But next time Farabaugh gets a chance to teach it, “now I have a little more street cred,” he said with a chuckle.
And here’s another delightfully random fact for everyone who’s playing the home game: Trivia and science aren’t Farabaugh’s only strong suits. Three of his crossword puzzles have been published by The New York Times.