“I really liked it when I would get a question and he wouldn’t know the answer,” Dillon said. “It’s really fun when you’re seven.”
The feat of answering questions that others cannot became even more fun when, after seven years of tryouts, Dillon earned a shot to compete against actual contestants on the televised quiz show.
The Munsey Park Elementary music teacher described his first online tryout as “really nerve wracking,” thanks to a 30-second time limit to correctly answer a stream of fifty questions, but summoned his persistence to continue shooting for a spot on the show.
“I don’t know all the answers in every game, but sometimes the odds are in my favor,” Dillon said, noting that he finished his January 2012 tryout – his most recent and last – with a particularly good feeling. Six months later, he traveled to Manhattan for the second round in the process.
“I called my mom and I was just really, really excited,” he said, of the 100-question written test, ten-minute game and interview that followed. “I thought that even if I only got this far, it was enough, because that’s how fun it was. I got to use the actual buzzers in the game and say, ‘I got to audition for JEOPARDY!’”
Dillon waited 18 months to find out that it was, in fact, only the beginning. Last week, he flew to California to compete in the fourth edition of the Teachers Tournament, a two-week event featuring fifteen educators vying for the $100,000 grand prize and a position in the Tournament of Champions.
Dillon’s taping – possibly the first of three – occurred last Tuesday and will air on Nov. 11. He relied on his depth of knowledge in history, geography and literature to carry him through the rounds, but focused on any and all categories during his preparation process that involved daily online quizzes, restaurant trivia, endless reading, and of course, daily recordings of JEOPARDY!
What would it take for Dillon to risk big money? “If it’s the category where I think I might have it in the bag, I will risk it all,” he said, on the night before round one. “But I will be careful if it’s not something I know too much about.”
Dillon, however, knows a great deal about many topics. “Once I auditioned, I started only reading and drinking trivial pursuits,” he said, adding that his colleagues regularly supported him in this endeavor. “Some teachers have been sending their kids to quiz me every day. Some teachers have lent me their books to help me study. The kids have been coming up to me with facts every day.”
Dillon’s students are eager to watch him on the big screen, but do they know what JEOPARDY! is?
“A lot of the kindergarteners did not know what it was, and there was more familiarity as I got up into the sixth grade,” Dillon admitted. “They just were flabbergasted, [asking], ‘Well, how did you do that?’”
Munsey Park Principal Jean Kendall said the entire “Munsey Park School Family” shares this excitement and pride for Dillon.
“All of the students, faculty and staff are rooting for his success,” she said.