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Godwin alum reflects on his Jeopardy experience and Alex Trebek by Brooke West and Alex Armbruster

photo Morgan Saxby
photo courtesy Morgan Saxby

Since its debut season in 1984, Jeopardy has become one of America’s top game shows viewed in the homes of millions of Americans. 

Due to its heightened popularity, scoring a spot on Jeopardy has become very competitive for participants. One Godwin alumnus, however, not only managed to earn a spot on the show, but also won big in the process.

Before graduating in 2001, Godwin alumnus, Morgan Saxby, was involved in the school community. Saxby worked as the Managing Editor of our very own Eagles’ Eyrie newspaper, participated in the Battle of the Brains, was a section leader of the band, played the clarinet, and tutored for NHS and Refugee and Immigration Services.

Heather Saxby, wife of Morgan Saxby, was also a student at Godwin. She worked alongside her husband as the Associate Editor-in-Chief of the Eagles’ Eyrie and participated in the band as a drum major. The pair started dating in their sophomore year of high school.

After graduating from Godwin, Saxby attended UVA and graduated with a double major in English and American Studies. Following college, he completed a program called “Teach for America” and got a Master’s degree in Elementary Education through American University. 

Currently, Saxby works as a fifth grade teacher at Robious Elementary School in Chesterfield County. 

Around the time Saxby competed on Jeopardy, he and his wife, Heather, had just moved to Charlottesville, so that she could attend graduate school at UVA. 

During this time, Saxby was teleworking at an education policy job based in Washington, DC. This was when he became interested in competing on Jeopardy, taking the first step in the tryout process.

“The most important thing, if you want to be on a game show, is to try out. I’m amazed at how many people tell me it’s their dream to go on Jeopardy, but then don’t actually try out for it,” said Saxby.

photo Morgan Saxby
photo courtesy Morgan Saxby

To be selected as a contestant for Jeopardy, one is required to take an online test and will then receive a call for an in-person interview if they make the first cut. 

“The first time I did the online 50 question test, I thought I did well, but they didn’t call me. The second time I did it, I thought I did well but not as good as the first time, but they called me,” said Saxby. 

Soon thereafter, Saxby flew down to Savannah, Ga. where his in-person tryouts took place. This process consisted of an interview and a trial game.

After the audition, Saxby became doubtful of his future on the show.

“I didn’t hear from them again for over a year, and then right before I was going out to dinner, I got a random call from a California number. Luckily I didn’t ignore it, and it was the Casting Director for Jeopardy getting my information to have me come out,” said Saxby.

Saxby’s love for the show came from his childhood where he would watch Jeopardy with his father, competing to see who could get the most correct answers.

“He’d always beat me and I’d get frustrated. We started pulling even by around 13, and then by the time I got to high school, I’d usually pull ahead of him,” said Saxby.

In preparation for the show, Saxby took advantage of Jeopardy’s online resources while also going back to his Battle of the Brains roots.

“I practiced watching some shows, and also using online questions at J-archive. I did spend some time reading some old quizbowl packets from [Godwin],” said Saxby.

Saxby’s Jeopardy preparation focused on practicing as well as developing strategies.

“I also planned what my betting strategies would be, which ended up being hugely important for me. In general, people bet too timidly, so on my first Daily Double, I bet almost all my money – and got it right,” said Saxby.

While on Jeopardy, Saxby had a successful three-game winning streak, where he appeared on TV for four nights.

“They film back to back, so it was all one day for me. They tell you to bring a few different shirts, so you can change between shows if you win. My fourth game, I was re-wearing my shirt from the first game!” said Saxby.

On season 26 of Jeopardy, at 26-years-old, Saxby took home $68,000. 

“It was a lot of fun, but it’s surreal,” said Saxby.

Following his time on Jeopardy, Saxby became a contestant on the show “Who Wants to be a Millionaire,” though the competition was a bit different.

“‘Millionaire’ was a more relaxed atmosphere, because you aren’t competing against the other people. There was more relaxed conversation among the contestants. The whole experience was much faster for me,” said Saxby.

Similarly to Jeopardy, Saxby attended an in-person tryout for “Millionaire,” which was held in Harlem’s Apollo Theatre in New York City. Both he and his wife took a test and were called back for in-person interviews, leading to Saxby’s quick acceptance to the show.

“A few weeks later (as opposed to one year for Jeopardy), I got a call saying to come back to NYC to tape the show,” said Saxby.

Coincidentally, Saxby took home around the same winnings as he did during his time on Jeopardy, with his final winnings totalling around $66,000. Though, his success was even sweeter knowing that his students were watching him at home.

“The airing of ‘Millionaire’ will always be special for me though, because that was my first year teaching at my previous elementary school, AM Davis. My students that year knew that I was going to be on, and would write me trivia about things they found interesting,” said Saxby.

After winning “Millionaire,” Saxby decided to give back to some of his biggest supporters, planning and funding a field trip for his students.

  “I used some of the winnings to take them on a field trip that I planned to DC,” said Saxby.

While on “Millionaire,” Saxby interacted with past host Meredith Viera. 

“Meredith Viera was the host at the time, and seemed genuinely nice and warm,” said Saxby.

During his time on Jeopardy, Saxby was also able to meet the late game show host, Alex Trebek.

“The only interaction I had with Trebek was at the very end of the show, which if you’re familiar with the show, is when the contestants are standing around. The first three times I did that, I was so elated from having just won, that I really don’t remember a thing about being near him!” said Saxby.

Rounding up his time on Jeopardy, Saxby had a better recollection of his final interaction with Trebek.

“The last time I do remember, because all three of us contestants were pretty evenly matched, and we agreed that any one of us could have won that particular game, it was just the luck of how various questions turned out. Alex made some joke that he thought the best betting strategy was to bet everything, and get the question right,” said Saxby.

In light of Alex Trebek’s recent passing, Saxby reflected on the famed host’s time on the show and his lasting legacy.

“He’s a legend, obviously. I do think there’s something to this idea going around that he’s attained such stature by being an arbiter of right and wrong, in a literal sense (not a moral sense). On Jeopardy, facts matter, knowing things about the world matters, knowing things about culture and history and… everything matters,” said Saxby.

Saxby also discussed his insights for the outlook of the show, weighing the options for possible new hosts.

“I’m sure they’ll pick someone good. Ken Jennings seems like a good guy, and clearly loves the show. There is a groundswell of support for LeVar Burton, who would be great too,” said Saxby.

With the future of Jeopardy up in the air, there is question as to how the show will compare to when Trebek was the host.

“No [it won’t be the same], but that doesn’t mean it will necessarily be less than it was,” said Saxby.

As a student turned teacher and game show winner, Saxby gave his opinion on how future game show contestants can start their preparation as students. 

“For current high schoolers, pay attention in your classes and do the reading. I answered a number of questions right about things I remembered from my high school classes, and I missed one question that I forgot from high school chemistry,” said Saxby.

As well as staying actively engaged in class, Saxby recommends students challenge themselves in order to be successful.

photo courtesy Morgan Saxby

“Also, take the ‘hardest’ classes you can. School is a lot more fun when you’re taking interesting classes and participating in extracurricular activities. You are probably underestimating how much you can do, and you are probably overestimating how hard the ‘hard’ classes are,” said Saxby.

Though Saxby enjoyed his time competing with others, he now finds fulfillment in teaching.

“I missed teaching, so when we moved back to Richmond, I started teaching again. I’ve been teaching here for about 10 years, and I still am happy doing that,” said Saxby.

photo courtesy Morgan Saxby

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