Howard County Times
Howard County

Howard High teacher's trivial pursuit brings her to 'Jeopardy'

Cathy Bloedorn, a chemistry and forensics teacher at Howard High School in Ellicott City, recently traveled to Los Angeles to compete in the fourth edition of the JEOPARDY! Teachers Tournament. She's surrounded in her classroom by emissionsspectrum tubes (emitting light)-which, she says, is one of the ways that chemists and physicists discovered the the structure of electrons. Her class is currently learning about the tubes.

Here's a bit of trivia, fashioned along the lines of a popular game show:

The answer is: "Who is Cathy Bloedorn?"


The question: "This Howard High School teacher signed a contract that prohibits her from telling how she fared on the TV game show 'Jeopardy.' "

The chemistry and forensics instructor at the Ellicott City school was among 15 schoolteachers nationwide who competed in the popular game show's fourth annual Teachers Tournament. The feat capped a lifelong dream for the 36-year-old Baltimore resident and trivia enthusiast, who tried out for "Jeopardy" about five years ago but failed to make it on the air.


Officials of the show said the two-week tournament will air Nov. 11-22, with teachers competing for a $100,000 grand prize and a berth in the show's prestigious Tournament of Champions.

"I think I always wanted to be on 'Jeopardy.' I always loved watching it, and when I was young I always thought, 'Essentially, I will never know enough to be on [the show],' " said Bloedorn, whose mother is a divinity school professor and father a radar engineer.

"When you're a kid, you're watching it, and there are questions about opera, economics, and you have no idea what they're talking about," she said. "But as I got older and gained more and more knowledge, I realized maybe I could.

"To do well in any kind of trivia, you have to be interested in just about everything," Bloedorn said. "And I'm interested in almost everything."

In a statement released by "Jeopardy" producers Sony Pictures Television, host Alex Trebek noted that Teachers Tournament contestants "spend their days nurturing and shaping young minds, so some viewers may be surprised when they come on our show and they're just as aggressive and competitive as the rest of our contestants."

Bloedorn recently returned to Howard High after filming the show in Los Angeles, and was greeted by scores of students eager to know how she fared. But they'll have to watch to find out — she signed a contract that says she can't reveal the outcome to anyone. She's not even allowed to reveal any of the questions.

"And believe me, with about 130 students, I've been asked in about every way possible," Bloedorn said.

What she can tell her students are details about how contestants were chosen.


The said tryouts initially involve an online exam with 50 questions, each of which must be answered within seven seconds. Then come regional, in-person auditions, another 50-second test, a mock episode and an interview.

"At no point in the process do they tell you your score or how you did, or why they chose you, so you have no idea," said Bloedorn.

The mock episode, she said, is part of the process to "make sure you have good camera presence. And then you don't know. You wait and wait and wait to see if they will call you."

She got the call Aug. 14, which also happened to be her son's third birthday. "It was a good day," she said.

To get ready for the tourney, Bloedorn studied with her help of her father, who is also an avid "Jeopardy" fan. They focused on subjects she said are not exactly her strong suit, including geography and sports. Her parents, who reside in Northern Virginia, accompanied her to the taping.

The appearance was a culmination of years of savoring factoids and competing on trivia teams. Bloedorn is part of a team that plays in a nationwide trivia contest league called Final Score Trivia of Maryland. The local branch involves teams that gather at venues throughout the state and play trivia games; the local Final Score website says more than 2,000 players regularly take part.


Among her trivia passions are all things sci-fi.

She knows, for example, that among those who auditioned for the role of Han Solo in "Star Wars" was Kurt Russell. Harrison Ford, who won the role, was initially "brought in just to read against other people," she said. She also knows "Star Trek" actor Leonard Nimoy, who plays the Vulcan character Mr. Spock, derived his famous Vulcan salute from a form of gesture that's part of a Jewish priestly blessing.

"I've always been pretty good at trivia. I remember names of bands, actors in movies," she said.

Now that she has accomplished a lifelong goal of appearing on "Jeopardy," Bloedorn said she is considering offering her assistance to the Howard High School teams that participate in the area high school quiz show "It's Academic." She does not expect her passion for trivia or her enjoyment of "Jeopardy" to wane.

"The nice thing about teaching science is that a lot of people view science as difficult in some ways, so having that as not difficult for me is having that as an advantage," she said.

"Science and mythology are my two strongest [subjects]. I'm a chemistry teacher, so any time they have a question about the periodic table [on a game show], it's a snap for me."