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Saint John High teacher crosses Jeopardy! off her bucket list

by RYAN MELANSON - Monday, October 28, 2013

This article is courtesy of TELEGRAPH-JOURNAL

Like many a Jeopardy! fan, Maryanne Lewell says she's spent years imagining herself on the long-running quiz show, and recalls frequently shouting answers to host Alex Trebek through her television screen.

Lewell, however, took her fandom, and her extensive trivia knowledge, farther than most ever dream of. The Saint John High School teacher returned late last week from California, where she was the first-ever Canadian participant in the Jeopardy!

Teacher's Tournament.

"It was definitely a bucket list moment for me," Lewell said."It's something I've wanted to do for such a long time." It was just before the beginning of the school year, about five months after the end of an extensive audition process, when Lewell got the call informing her she was due at the show's studio in Culver City in October.

The road to get there included an initial online test, which she aced, and was followed by an in-person audition in New York, with another written test, to ensure she didn't cheat online, as well as a mock taping to test for on-screen compatibility.

"They're not just looking for your ability to recall, but also your ability to appear on camera. Whether you're going to speak, whether you have a certain personality." She went through the process in April, putting her best foot forward and trying to be as memorable as possible, but there was no guarantee.

"It's basically 'OK, we have your name on file, and either we call you, within 18 months, or we don't,'" she said.

When the call did come, however, Lewell got to work. Her background as a social studies and history teacher, coupled with an obvious penchant for trivia and excellent retention skills, gave her a solid foundation.

"But I had to learn America," she said, noting she compiled flash cards of presidents, states, state nicknames and other facts. Her department head Greg Theobald constantly sent her quizzes over the two months as well.

From her homeroom Grade 11 students came more excitement and moral support, especially as the school filmed a promotional video to be aired during the episode.

As for the taping itself, there's very little information Lewell can spill prior to the episode airing on Nov. 14, but she can share the experience of meeting 30-year host and TV legend Alex Trebek.

"He's actually very funny in person, even if it doesn't translate into the delivery of his clues because he does it in such a professional and clear manner." Trebek took time for Q-and-A and some joking with the audience between breaks as well, Lewell said. And their shared Canadian heritage, Trebek being an Ontario native, may have made her a favourite among contestants.

"I think he was actually kind of excited to have a fellow Canadian there." The teacher said she could only offer the fact that her opponents were also impressively smart, as well as friendly, and that the infamous Jeopardy! buzzers were a source of frustration.

"It's a question of timing and there's also technique with how you hit it. It needs to be hit face on and multiple times. It's pretty crazy," she said. To see how Lewell fares on one of the toughest quiz shows in history, however, everyone will simply have to wait until Nov.14. The tournament itself begins on Nov.11.

She said the experience was everything she hoped it would be, fun throughout with spirited competition and an extremely helpful and welcoming staff.

Now that she's home, however, she said it's going to be tough to watch her favourite quiz show without her mind revisiting her own time under the bright lights.

"I don't think anybody that's been on the show could ever watch it the same again afterwards. You know too much; you've seen the man behind the curtain."

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