Local teacher to appear on ‘Jeopardy!’
by Laura Adelmann
Kathryn Wendling’s high school classmates were prophetic when predicting the Farmington woman’s future.
Named most likely to appear on the game show “Jeopardy!” when she attended Duluth East High School, Wendling, 38, fulfilled that prediction in January.
The Burnsville High School Senior Campus social studies teacher was one of 15 players selected to compete in a “Jeopardy!” teachers tournament, which will be broadcast Feb. 15 to 28.
All competitors received $5,000 and an expenses-paid trip to the taping at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, Calif., but only one took home the $100,000 grand prize and a guaranteed spot in the show’s tournament of champions.
Wendling is not allowed to reveal the teachers tournament outcome, but said all players got at least $5,000 and an electronic “Jeopardy!” system for classroom use.
“It was fun to bring it back to school,” Wendling said, adding that it comes complete with electronic buzzers.
It was the real “Jeopardy!” buzzers that Wendling found were her biggest challenge.
“If you don’t buzz in first, it doesn’t matter if you know the answer,” Wendling said.
Contestants are not allowed to activate their buzzers until a behind-curtain light is activated.
If contestants hit their buzzers too soon, they are locked out of the system for a fraction of a second.
“I will never know if I was locked out or if I got beat,” Wendling said. “It’s hard to tell. I just kept pressing it.”
Wendling was selected for a tryout after completing an online test.
“They don’t tell you if you pass,” Wendling said. “If you get a certain score, they send you an email and you can try out in person.”
She flew to a tryout in Kansas City, took a written test and played against other would-be contestants in a simulated game.
“When I found out I was going, they said I can choose either the teacher or the regular tournament,” Wendling said. “I said whichever one you call me for. I just wanted to go.”
A game-show fan since childhood, Wendling won $50,000 on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” and the $67,500 grand prize on “The Weakest Link.”
But Wendling said the pinnacle for her has always been competing on “Jeopardy!”
“It’s been around so long and is the most respected as far as academic trivia goes,” she said.
To prepare, she planned to brush up on capitals and presidents and focus on arts and classical music, which she considers her weakest subjects.
“But that didn’t happen,” Wendling said. “Teaching got in the way.”
All shows were recorded over a two-day period.
During taping, Wendling said a bond formed between the contestants.
“Everyone was rooting for each other,” Wendling said. “It was not as competitive as it was a feeling of colleagues.”
While one appearance is all “Jeopardy!” contestants are allowed unless they make it to the champions tournament, Wendling didn’t rule out the possibility of more game shows in her future.
Wendling’s husband of three months, Cale Coughlan, is determined they compete in “The Amazing Race.”
Wendling is hesitant, claiming her trivia skills trump her athletic skills, but she doesn’t discount the likelihood that it could happen.
“He’s very serious,” she said. “He says we’re doing a video and it’s going to happen. So, maybe you can look for us someday on ‘The Amazing Race.’ ”
Laura Adelmann is at firstname.lastname@example.org.