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Local teacher wins ‘Jeopardy!’ Teacher Tournament

By: Kristyne E. Demske | C&G Newspapers | Published June 5, 2020

 Local teacher Ben Henri won the Jeopardy Teachers Tournament.

Local teacher Ben Henri won the Jeopardy Teachers Tournament.

Provided photo


ST. CLAIR SHORES/GROSSE POINTES — Kicking off the game with “Choir Practice” for $200, a local vocal music teacher’s quest to be on “Jeopardy!” culminated in a $100,000 prize for winning the two-week Teacher Tournament.

Ben Henri, of St. Clair Shores, took the top spot in the tournament June 5 after correctly answering the Final Jeopardy question in the second day of the two-day finals. The category was 18th century novels, and the question was, “The title character of this 1726 novel reaches four different lands as a result of a shipwreck, a storm at sea, pirates and a mutiny.”.

“The question came up and as soon as it did, I was like, ‘Oh my God, I just won this whole thing,’” Henri recalled. “I put the answer down, put a little smiley face and tried not to telegraph what was going through my head.”

Henri said that he read “Gulliver’s Travels” in high school and watched the miniseries, starring Ted Danson, several times growing up. It’s also a book that he regularly covers with his Quiz Bowl students at Grosse Pointe North High School because it regularly comes up in competition.

“It seems like kismet. The first category you chose was about choir practice, and the last question was about this book you enjoyed reading in high school. (It was) a combination of all these factors that I’ve done in the past,” he said.

Henri teaches four vocal ensembles at Grosse Pointe North High School, as well as the “Dude’s Choir” for 7th- and 8th-grade boys at Parcells Middle School. 

He has been taking the online test for “Jeopardy!” for the past decade or so, and made it into the contestant pool twice before, but never got the call to be a part of the show until the spring of 2019.

His luck almost ran out at the in-person audition in Chicago, though, in the middle of the 50-question timed test.

“I brought my own pen, which ran out of ink in the middle of question 10,” he said. “Fortunately, there was another contestant there that had brought another pen and tossed it my way. I don’t know that person’s name, but I am forever grateful.”

Henri made it into the contestant pool once more, and this time he got a call from “Jeopardy!” producers in January 2020 that he would be part of the Teachers Tournament that was filming in February.

His first episode aired May 28 and began with Henri getting to pick the first question. He said that, with a category like “Choir Practice,” “of course I had to go right for it, but the downside was that I only got two out of the five right!”

The answer to the first question was a capella — Henri had been in an a capella group for years in college and said he doesn’t think he’d ever be able to live down the fact that he missed answering it, but bouncing back is a lesson he tries to teach his students.

“It’s not the mistake that matters, it’s the recovery,” he said. “I like that I had an opportunity to share that lesson with students on a much larger scale.”

“Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek said that the 15 teachers in the tournament were “all very young, but they’ve been performing well,” at the start of the May 28 show.

Henri went on to win his semifinal tournament June 3 with a wager that put him $1 over his next competitor and the correct answer to Final Jeopardy: Notre Dame.

The semifinal and the two final rounds of the tournament were all taped in one day on Feb. 25, Henri said. After winning his semifinal match, the adrenaline was coursing so hard through his body that he could barely eat lunch before heading back to the studio to tape the final two episodes during which the three teacher finalists competed for $100,000, which aired June 4 and 5. 

The three teachers in the final, Henri said, were all musicians. While Henri is a vocal music teacher, Will Satterwhite, of Virginia — who came in third place and won $25,000 — teaches band. Meggie Kwait was a humanities teacher whose first degree was in vocal performance. She took second place in the tournament, winning $50,000.

All around, Henri said the experience was great.

“The “Jeopardy!” production staff does an excellent job of ensuring that all you have to do is buzz in and answer questions,” he said. “The other contestants were just wonderful people. We’re all teachers and so it was easy to get along with them.

“I think everyone is so happy to be there in the first place and excited that some of the competitive nature falls by the wayside.”

The teachers have kept in touch since the tournament, Henri said. 

“They have been a great resource to lean on and talk to during this time when we’ve been separated from our students,” he said. “We came out of it feeling good about the experience as a whole.”

After months of keeping the secret, Henri said it’s rewarding to finally get to share his achievement with friends and family.

“I think I might know how ‘Game of Throne’ actors felt. You have to keep these secrets for a long time.”

Trivia is something that Henri has always enjoyed. He practices online daily and is also the coach of the Quiz Bowl team at Grosse Pointe North. He encourages his successful students to try out for the teen or college tournaments because he feels that it is such a great experience.

“This just happens to fit in this set of skills that I have: Years of trivia and also years of video games,” Henri quipped.  

His brother, Damian, was a 2-day champion six years ago. 

“He said, ‘You have got to get on ‘Jeopardy!’ He really pushed me and said, ‘Keep trying, keep trying,’” Henri recalled. 

Call Staff Writer Kristyne E. Demske at (586) 498-1041.