Chemistry Teacher Competing in the Jeopardy! Teacher’s Tournament


Joseph Mook

Mrs. Julia Bailey after returning from the taping of Jeopardy! in Los Angeles

The process to become a contestant on “Jeopardy!” has become more accessible over the years as the game has grown their online presence. However, the newfound accessibility does not make the task any easier.

Future Jeopardy! Contestant and resident chemistry teacher Julia Bailey knows this better than most. Mrs. Bailey has been actively trying to become a contestant for the last eight years now. Over that time, she has taken the online test five times and auditioned twice.

First, applicants must take and pass the online test which is made up of 50 open-ended questions across dozens of potential topics. If they pass the test and meet the minimum eligibility requirements, applicants are placed into a random selection process for an invitation to an audition. The selection pool contains tens of thousands of other test takers and only around 2000 make it to the various regional auditions scattered around the United States.

Assuming someone performs well at the audition, they will be placed into the contestant pool and could be invited to compete up to 18 months from their audition date. Making it to an audition is not a guarantee of being invited to compete on the show, however, as only 15 teachers (and one alternate) are selected to compete in the Jeopardy! Teachers Tournament.

“I have wanted to be a contestant ever since the first time I saw Jeopardy! Kids Week, when I was about 12.” Bailey said. “I saw the kids on the show and realized ‘Oh! Someone like me could actually be on Jeopardy!’ and it’s been a lifelong dream ever since.”

In February of  2018, Mrs. Bailey took part in her most recent online test. In May of that year, she got an email asking her to attend an audition in New Orleans. The audition took place over three stages. First, the potential contestants started with a written test. Then they were pulled into groups of three and interviewed. Lastly, they competed in a mock Jeopardy! game against their group members which was recorded as a screen test.

Even if you do well in your interview you still aren’t guaranteed a spot on Jeopardy! as everyone who “passes” the interview is placed into another random selection pool to find the contestants. Mrs. Bailey was one of the lucky few to be selected and on Valentine’s Day this year (seven months after her audition) she finally got the call from Jeopardy!.

“When I got inside and looked at my phone, I had a voicemail from Jeopardy! I called right back and he picked up immediately and started asking me all these legal questions ‘Have you ever met Alex Trebek? Does anyone in your family work for Sony Picture Studios? Are you currently employed as a full-time teacher?’ etc. and meanwhile I am freaking out and shaking. I grabbed a piece of paper and scribbled ‘I am on the phone with Jeopardy!!!–Teachers Tournament????’ and shoved it in my husband’s face when he came back in with our daughter and the mail. He started recording me while I’m trying to take notes and meanwhile our daughter is trying to steal my pen because she wants to color. I managed to sort of hold it together until we hung up and then I sort of jumped up and down and also cried and also collapsed. It kind of freaked my daughter out”

The next couple days were an “emotional rollercoaster” for Mrs. Bailey. “One minute I was excited, then I was nervous, then I felt like I was going to vomit, then I was crying, then I was excited again.” Bailey said. “It was basically all of the emotions and hormones of being pregnant, except if you did it all in one day.”

With the vast variety of topics that Jeopardy! covers in a single game, much less an entire tournament, a lot of studying needs to be done to fully prepare for the competition. Mrs. Bailey has diversified her studying strategies to the fullest extent to ensure that she leaves no stone uncovered. To prepare her for the tournament, Mrs. Bailey has been going through the Jeopardy! question archive and listing all of the topics she is unfamiliar with. She has also been enlisting her students to help her study having them quiz her on information from her “Today I am Studying” wall after they finish their work as well as playing mock Jeopardy! games against the Quiz Bowl team. Mrs. Bailey has also been reaching out to her fellow teachers to help her study. Cheryl Frazier sent her a website full of map quizzes. Cathy Benford sent Mrs. Bailey notes from her college music history course. Coach McKinney offered to help her with sports trivia. Jill Wetzig sent her a summary of economic schools of thought and famous economists. Cara Beth Nichols sent her study resources for architecture. She passes Mark Romano in the hall, he shouts a question at her that she tries to answer as quickly as possible. Daniel Morgan has been drawing constellation star charts in the copy room that she’s been going over.

From April 1-3 Mrs. Bailey was flown out to Los Angeles to represent the faculty and student body of Round Rock High School on a global stage in the Jeopardy! Teacher’s Tournament and achieved one of her lifelong dreams while doing it.

“I think just knowing that I will actually be achieving a lifelong goal is the biggest thing.” Bailey said. “I never really thought this would happen, and what an item to check off my bucket list!”