King School teacher buzzes in on Jeopardy
STAMFORD — Ben Schwartz watched Jeopardy! religiously at the dinner table each night with his grandmother starting when he was 8 years old.
“She was just a person who loved learning for its own sake and that really rubbed off on me,” said Schwartz, 27, a Stamford resident and middle school English teacher at King School.
Even after Schwartz’s grandmother died, he continued her love for Jeopardy! and will appear on the show’s two-week Teachers Tournament Friday evening. As a self-contained tournament, Schwartz is not competing against record-breaking James Holzhauer, but instead against full-time teachers of students in grades kindergarten through twelve.
The show taped in early April and Schwartz can’t divulge the results until after the episode airs, but he did discuss what it was like to be behind the buzzer.
“It was a thrill to be able to say the phrase ‘True Daily Double,’ which is a phrase that’s circulated in my mind since childhood,” said Schwartz, referencing the Jeopardy! strategy of wagering all one’s money on a given question.
The question at hand for his risky wager: “This constellation which includes the North Star was used by escaping enslaved people to find the way to freedom.”
The answer to that puzzle, the 27-year-old added, was the big dipper.
The rest of the show was a total blur.
“It was so much fun to be up on the stage playing the game and it went by in what felt like a snap,” Schwartz said.
Schwartz said his grandmother was on his mind as he answered questions.
“I definitely felt a connection with her while I was up on the stage,” he said.
Offstage, Schwartz said he enjoyed spending time with teachers from across the country who were all grateful to have a free trip to Los Angeles and all-expenses-paid lodging, a perk of the teacher’s tournament not given to regular Jeopardy! contestants.
“It was amazing to meet such different people, but people in whom I recognized so much of myself as a teacher,” Schwartz said.
The King School instructor was among a select few who made it through the many hoops of becoming a contestant — from an initial online test, to an in-person interview, followed by a call to be on the show a month before the taping was to occur.
Teaching is in Schwartz’s blood. His mother, Betsy Bowen, teaches English at Fairfield University and his father teaches at Greenwich Academy.
Schwartz himself grew up in Fairfield and graduated from Fairfield Warde High School before going on to study at Brown University.
After college, Schwartz worked for a year at Great Oaks Charter School in Bridgeport and then returned to school to for a master’s degree in English from Columbia University.
Schwartz is now on his second year of teaching at King School and also works at the area nonprofit REACH Prep when not at King.
Next year, Schwartz is going back to school for what he says will be the final time. In the fall he’ll enroll in an English doctoral program at Vanderbilt University.
For Schwartz, however, Jeopardy! will always be the highlight.
“To see yourself inside your favorite TV show, it’s like what can happen next? Am I going to end up in an episode of Seinfeld? That’s the only way it could go up from here,” he said.
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