Colin O’Grady Represents WestPo in Jeopardy! Teachers’ Tournament

The Shakespeare Studies and English teacher finally had the chance to fulfill a dream he’s had for a long time.

Nina Raneses, Reporter

It’s a typical Monday night and the end of a four-day weekend for students at WestPo. It is 7:26 PM, and the reality of returning back to school after a break from the end-of-semester grind should be kicking in. Instead, a collective, enthusiastic spirit surges through social media as students frantically search for their remotes and sit in front of the TV. They look for Channel 7. They have four minutes until 7:30 for Jeopardy! to begin. The popular game show doesn’t necessarily target or appeal to our generation, as one can observe from the sometimes tedious trivia and older contestants. It can be intimidating to watch.

But tonight, students set their DVRs or wait for the moment a familiar face shows up as one of tonight’s contestants. West Potomac’s own Mr. O’Grady was chosen to compete in Jeopardy’s Teacher’s Tournament and battle it out against teachers from around the country for a spot in the finals. “We searched the country to find 15 of the brightest teachers in America,” the television show’s website states–a description most would agree could match no other than our school’s beloved English & Shakespeare Studies teacher.

O’Grady was more prepared than ever before during his audition in the fall of last year. “I’ve been a huge fan of the show my whole life–Mrs. O’Grady and I are definitely the nerds who play along at home–so even auditioning was a thrill,” he recalls. He has been a fan his whole life, and unsurprisingly this is not the first time he has taken the test or auditioned. O’Grady explains the process for auditioning and having a chance of getting on the air.

“To be a contestant on Jeopardy, you have to start by taking the 50-question online test, which is offered a couple of times a year. Hundreds of thousands of people take it, and based on the results, Jeopardy invites around 1,500 people to come to auditions throughout the country. This was the fifth or sixth time I’ve taken the online test, and the second time I’d auditioned; the first was in Philadelphia ten years ago, when I was a student teacher at West Potomac,” he says.

After almost a decade, O’Grady got the call that would fulfill one of his greatest life dreams. “I felt good about my audition, so when I saw an LA area code pop up on my phone, I had a feeling it might be Jeopardy, but I was shocked when they said that they wanted to book me for the Teachers Tournament.” He absolutely loved the experience, especially the atmosphere he got from his fellow competitors. “First, you get to represent the teaching profession, and that’s something that is such a huge part of my life, so it was an honor in that sense. I also got the chance to represent West Potomac, which meant a lot to me; after all, this is the only school I’ve ever taught at, and I’m very proud to be a part of WestPo. Second, the Jeopardy people say that there’s a spirit around the Teachers Tournament that makes it unlike any other part of the year on the show.”

Unsurprisingly, O’Grady was not shy when it came to discussing the experience of flying to California and filming the show as well. “Jeopardy flew me out there [Los Angeles] on a Saturday, and I had a day and a half before the tapings on Monday and Tuesday,” he explains. “Mrs. O’Grady was able to go with me, and we wound up spending the whole day before the taping relaxing and reviewing as much history as we could.” Mrs. O’Grady, who is also a teacher and teaches history at WestPo, was very supportive of her husband, and also claims to be a Jeopardy nerd. She, along with a lot of her family as well as his own, have been very proud of him throughout the whole process.

He vividly describes the day of taping: the moment he had been waiting for. “The day of the taping was a whirlwind. They picked up all of the contestants at the hotel at 7 am, and as soon as we got on the bus we had to turn our phones off and isolate ourselves from the world. Once we got to the studio, it was a hectic morning of paperwork and makeup and promotional stuff; there was really not much time to be nervous. Fortunately, I was selected for the first game of the day, so I was up on stage almost immediately.”

O’Grady and his competitors for the quarterfinals. (Carol Kaelson/Jeopardy Productions Inc.)

After the first few rounds, it was clear that Iowa teacher Ms. Martha Jackson would prove to be fierce competition against O’Grady. Despite Martha’s unpopular rep among students on social media for coming close to beating their teacher that night, O’Grady explains that she along with all the contestants are all very nice and shared a bond over their profession. “Since then, we’ve all connected on Facebook, and we’ve been rooting for each other and publicizing each other’s episodes as much as our own. I really do consider all of them friends now.”

The majority of the show became a head-to-head speed battle between the two, leaving their third competitor, New York teacher Ms. Erin McLaughlin in the dust until Final Jeopardy. The English teacher says the speed of the whole game is what surprised him the most about the entire experience–but he was prepared nonetheless.

“I’m very proud to be a part of WestPo. The Jeopardy people say that there’s a spirit around the Teachers Tournament that makes it unlike any other part of the year on the show.”

He simulated the speed of the show by practicing his buzzer skills. The timing of the buzzer, he says, is the difference between winning and losing. He explains how he replicates this process. “I start watching the show standing up, instead of sitting down, to mimic the conditions in the studio, and I used a clicky pen to practice my timing. The buzzers actually don’t activate until Alex finishes reading the question; if you push it too early, they lock you out for half a second.”

ogradyFinal Jeopardy is the notorious last round that can make or break the entire game, and O’Grady, ahead with $21,000, decided not to risk anything and ended up winning despite getting the question wrong. Social media around the school was buzzing with excitement, but perhaps the most interesting tweets were not from students themselves, but viewers from across the nation tweeting their input on the night’s semi-finalist. From relatives of other contestants, to complete strangers swooning over the Shakespeare teacher, it seems everyone had something interesting to say about O’Grady on Twitter Monday night, and O’Grady himself along with WestPo students found it incredibly amusing.

Twitter user Frank Howell, who claims to be Martha’s nephew, expressed similar feelings that WestPo students felt for his aunt when O’Grady was behind Martha in earlier rounds. #thanksalotcolin


Others criticized his mistakes with harsh judgement…


While some sang the praises of his talk with Alex Trebek about his Shakespeare Studies’ “Blood Day,” dubbing the teacher a “cool dude.”



WestPo students joined in on the social media discussion as well, humoring Twitter users and their short-lived infatuation with their teacher.



#ColinOSlaydy for the win.

On the social media reaction, O’Grady says he “intentionally didn’t look at it [social media content about himself] on the advice of previous Jeopardy contestants,” but his family, friends, and students did and showed a lot of it to him. “I guess I was lucky in that mine was mostly positive [social media response]; it was a little silly, but it was positive,” he says about the tweets. “I have seen a lot of negative stuff about other teachers, though, and some about me missing the two questions that I did, and it’s disappointing.” Following Monday night’s episode, a viral video of Alex Trebek reading the lyrics in the hard rock category (which O’Grady swept out all by himself) made its way to Jimmy Fallon and TIME! “Last I checked, the video had 113,000 views on Facebook. It was funny when it happened, and you can see that I was laughing, but I had no idea that people would react to it as much as they did; I never thought in a million years I’d see my face on Jimmy Fallon! I suppose it just speaks to how big an icon Alex Trebek is, really.”

Watch the video here: []

Funny tweets and awkward Alex Trebek aside, the WestPo community is incredibly proud of Mr. O’Grady for doing so well in the Teacher’s Tournament and representing our great school with his talent and extensive knowledge on all things trivia. Unfortunately, he was eliminated from the tournament last night when he was beaten by Ms. Cathy Farrell–but we are still extremely proud of him being on the show and winning his quarter finals! To WestPo, he will forever be known as the Jeopardy teacher, and that is a legacy that both him and the school will be proud to hold long after.