Fenwick teacher wins ‘Jeopardy!’ tournament, pockets $250,000
BY LORI RACKL TV Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org February 26, 2013 7:06PM
Colby Burnett and Alex Trebek on "Jeopardy!" Credit: Jeopardy Productions, Inc.
Some of the questions and answers — or answers and questions — Colby Burnett got right on “Jeopardy!”
A. Bryan Cranston stars in this highly acclaimed AMC series, a whole different kind of cooking show.
Q. What is “Breaking Bad?”
A. November is the main month for this king of meteor showers.
Q. What are the Leonids?
A. [New York] mayor three different times from 1800 to 1815, he was “de man” to improve American infrastructure.
Q. Who is DeWitt Clinton?
A. In the whispering gallery in the dome of this London cathedral, one can hear whispered words over 100 feet across the dome.
Q. What is St. Paul’s?
A. One of the two years in which three men served as president of United States.
Q. What is 1841?
Updated: February 27, 2013 7:21AM
A world history teacher from Chicago schooled the competition to win the Tournament of Champions on Tuesday’s episode of “Jeopardy!”
Colby Burnett, 29, walked away with the $250,000 grand prize, which he’ll add to the $100,000 he won after clinching the quiz show’s teachers tournament last fall.
This puts Burnett in an elite group of high-earning “Jeopardy!” champions. But don’t expect the Fenwick High School teacher to quit his day job — or even to buy a car to commute to his day job from his Near West Side apartment. He’ll stick with public transportation, thank you very much.
“A car is a luxury, not a necessity,” Burnett said Tuesday at Fenwick, where students and fellow teachers gathered in the auditorium to watch the episode and cheer him on.
“Just because you have money doesn’t mean you have to spend money,” he added. “I suppose I’m going to wind up investing it very conservatively.”
One thing Burnett does plan on buying is a condo for his mother. While growing up in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood, his mom worked night shifts to make enough money to send him to the Oak Park Catholic high school where he now works.
She also helped keep him from racking up “horrendous debt” at Northwestern University.
Tuesday’s episode capped off a two-day finale that pit Burnett against a research chemist from Charlotte, N.C., and a NASA analyst from Alabama. The teacher got off to a slow start, ending up in the hole after the first commercial break and trailing his opponents at the start of the Double Jeopardy round. But he picked up steam and had enough of a cushion from Monday’s win to emerge tournament champ.
“I thought I’d be knocked out in the first round,” said Burnett, who fended off against several competitors with more wins under their belts.
“Fortune just favored me,” he said about his victories in both the teachers and the champions tourneys. “I certainly don’t think I’m above and beyond the smartest person in either of those groups of people.”
Those are humble words coming from a man described on the Internet as the cockiest contestant in the show’s history. Wrote one blogger: “His facial expressions after hearing the questions scream, ‘PSHT! You think I don’t know that s---?’”
Said Burnett, “My eyebrows flare up when I’m thinking, and when I’m on a game show I’m thinking a lot. I don’t hold back emotions at all.”
That includes calling out “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek on Monday’s episode, where Trebek made a crack about Colby sharing his name with a type of cheese. Burnett sarcastically shot back that he’d never heard that one before.
“I got teased about that from a fairly young age,” he said. “I’m not taking this from anyone. I don’t care who you are.”
Burnett said he doesn’t mind if viewers think he’s cocky. “Maybe I am to a certain extent. I like the fact that I know things. I’ve been involved in academic competitions since I was 14 years old.”
The coach of Fenwick’s scholastic bowl team does, however, care what his students think.
“They’ve been behind me 100 percent,” he said. “They know how much effort I try to put into being knowledgeable about all things.”