A Princeton High School teacher who lives in Hopewell had many local residents tuned in when he competed in Jeopardy! last month.
Hopewell resident Kian Barry, who teaches World and European history at Princeton High School, competed in Week 4 of the 35th season of the ABC game show earlier this month.
Having buzzed in and answered 10 questions correctly, Barry was in second place going into the final Jeopardy! question, with $13,000. His fellow competitors had $19,600 and $12,600. The category was “international crime” and the “answer” was, “Italy’s Agromafia enriches itself through counterfeit versions of this ‘liquid gold’ mentioned by Homer & Plato.”
Barry made a final bet of $1,000. That may seem like an unusually low bet, but it was consistent with a betting strategy that he had thought out well in advance. He had calculated that if he was in second place going into the final question, and the first place contestant was not running away with the game, the best move would be to make a small bet.
“If all three of us get the question right, there is no way I’m going to win because the person ahead of me is going to bet enough money that even if I double, I won’t win,” he said in an interview conducted after the show aired.
As such, Barry needed to play for a scenario in which that doesn’t happen. “There is another scenario in which I get it right and the other [contestants] get it wrong, but that’s not nearly as likely as all three of us getting it wrong. Either way, the way I bet would have worked for either of the two scenarios.”
All three contestants correctly answered “olive oil” to the final question, and Barry ended up taking third place.
“It would’ve meant a lot to me to be champion, but I know that the limiting factor on it was my ability to run a buzzer, and I don’t put much personal quality in that,” he said.
Barry had a tough start. He attempted to buzz in for nine of the first 10 questions asked, with no success.
“If you’re too early you get locked out and you can’t buzz in for a quarter of a second. But if you’re too late, you’re too late,” Barry said.
He continues: “For most clues, all three of us are buzzing in, all three of us know the answers to those. Everyone there is at a very high level of trivia knowledge. The real separating factor is the buzzer.”
Barry was very worried at that point, and so were his fiancée, his brother, and mother. “My brother was terrified and worried I was going to embarrass myself on TV,” he said.
He began getting in a few times, but mostly on high value clues with harder questions.
“I could have bet more on my daily double,” Barry adds. “I should have bet all of it. It was a category that was so easy for a history teacher—the 1968 election—and there’s basically no question they could ask that I won’t get right.”
Four years ago, Barry stumbled upon an online Jeopardy! test. “It was 50 questions, so I just took it like I would take a random Sporcle quiz. I happened to do well enough that they invited me to the audition, and that’s the first time I ever thought about being on the show in any form or fashion.”
At that audition, Barry took a second written test and played a mock game of Jeopardy! with other potential contestants. He was also interviewed in a similar manner that host Alex Trebek interviews contestants during the show, asking them questions about themselves and what they’ll do with the money if they win.
“I learned a lot from the first audition process. My goal in the second audition was to just smile though everything no matter whether or not I knew what I was doing. I also was less worried about the material the second time around.”
Barry’s fiancée Shelly Rzewuski, a special education teacher, says she was thrilled when Barry got the call to appear on the show. “It worked out really nicely with our already-planned trip out West,” she said. “It was perfect timing too, since Kian doesn’t work in the summer. He was able to spend almost a full month preparing and studying.”
Rzewuski helped quiz Barry and make a few note cards, but says Barry did much of the preparation on his own.
When asked if his experience competing on Jeopardy! has changed his approach to teaching, he said, “Teaching is not about trivia. In fact, I emphasize the opposite of that.”
Although his family members weren’t under the same contract that prohibits Barry from disclosing the results of the show before it airs, he asked them to keep it under wraps. “It’s more fun that way, so that’s what we did,” he said.
He said he’s watched the show ever since he was a little kid. “It’s an American institution. I can’t believe I got to be a part of it. It’s really incredible, so I’m very lucky,” he said.