Students and faculty gathered in the church atrium at St. Mary Visitation, Elm Grove, on Thursday, April 3, to watch one of their own in action. Michael Falk, their teacher and colleague, was going to appear on Jeopardy! for its Battle of the Decades show. Jimmy McGuire, a Jeopardy! staff member and traveling show host, enthusiastically encourages St. Mary Visitation students during a Quiz Bowl taping at the Elm Grove school, the day before Michael Falk’s appearance on the game show. Falk is seen at the left of the photo. (Catholic Herald photo by John Kimpel)

“I had about the most supportive crowd you could possibly have in that house with me,” Falk said.

But, Falk was matched against the show’s greatest winner, Ken Jennings, who has won more than $1 million from his appearances. 

“I wasn’t hoping to play against him because I felt, and I feel now, he’s probably the best Jeopardy! player of all time,” Falk said. “But my philosophy going into the tournament is, I’m not scared to play anybody. I’ll put up a game against anybody.”

The day before the episode was broadcast, a Jeopardy! film crew came to St. Mary to play Quiz Bowl, an academic, similar style game with the students.

“It’s the Jeopardy! experience for themselves,” said Falk, who participated with the students in the game.

On the day the show aired, his students watched as Falk lost to Jennings. Falk knew this was the outcome for two months but “played along” so as not to give away any hints of the outcome.

“They’ve been anticipating this as long as I have so it was a very exciting, electric atmosphere,” he said. “I wish for their sake, too, that it had turned out differently but they’re very, very supportive … I think it was a great thing for me and my school; obviously I wish it would’ve come out differently but I’m satisfied.”

Falk didn’t come home empty handed as the show awarded him $5,000 for his participation.An animated Michael Falk participates in the Quiz Bowl taping the day before his appearance on Jeopardy! Battle of the Decades aired. (Catholic Herald photo by John Kimpel)

“I do consider myself consoled,” he said with a laugh. “With a million (dollars) on the line, everyone is hoping to go a long way and make the million.”

But this experience was bigger than the game show for Falk and his students.

“There are so many interesting things in the world around us, so many interesting things that are worth learning and worth knowing and worth talking about,” he said. 

He added it was also a lesson to the students in how to respond when things don’t go your way.

“You’re not going to win every game; you’re never going to be undefeated in life,” he said. “There’s a certain lesson in learning how to win with grace and lose with grace.”

Falk, a member of St. Therese Parish, Milwaukee, encourages everyone thinking about trying to be on the show to take the online quiz.

“Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” he said.

Despite the outcome, Falk said this was a great experience to share with his students and colleagues. 

“The anticipation is the most fun and I’m glad they got to take that ride with me,” he said.