SALT LAKE CITY — Utah teacher Steve Mond said he has one advantage over the other 2018 "Jeopardy!" Teachers Tournament competitors: his on-camera experience.
Although Mond, who teaches ninth- and 10th-grade math at RSL Academy High School, lives in Midvale, Utah, he’s originally from Los Angeles. As a child, he acted in “Diff’rent Strokes” as Arnold Jackson’s friend Robbie Jason and as the son of the character Ward Douglas (played by Ned Beatty) in Steven Spielberg’s World War II-era comedy “1941."
“I was probably a lot more calm being out on a stage and having cameras pointing at me than most of the other contestants," Mond said. "If I did prepare, my preparation was to make sure that I was going to be completely comfortable, that I could walk out on the stage and turn to Alex and give him an answer just as easily as if I’m shouting it out in my living room."
Mond learned he would be a "Jeopardy!" contestant in January, after 12 years and four tries. He flew to Denver in August for an in-person contestant interview. Five months later, he received a call inviting him to compete in the Teachers Tournament.
Mond had wanted to compete on "Jeopardy!" since Alex Trebek began hosting the show, around the time Mond was 13.
“I was just at the right age where I’d go home from school, watch it sometimes and occasionally see something I had just studied in school," Mond said. "I was always a curious kid. I liked knowledge, and I liked learning things."
Mond said his preparation consisted mostly of several small sets of flashcards and watching "Jeopardy!" more than usual.
He also did some "number crunching" to determine what score he should aim for. In "Jeopardy!" tournaments, not only the game winners advance — the four contestants with the highest scores also move on to the semifinals.
The tournament format also led to an experience Mond said illustrated the makers' attention to detail.
During the taping, Mond said the contestants were required to wait in a room while they weren't playing so none of them would know the outcomes of the games.
The contestant coordinator brought movies for the contestants to watch — both to entertain them while they waited and to ensure they couldn't hear anything happening onstage. The people who wrote the clues for that day's games specially chose the movies to ensure the contestants wouldn't watch anything that would give away the answers.
Mond said he watched "Sixteen Candles" with the other contestants, so he was "pretty confident" there wouldn't be any clues about John Hughes.
Mond said his favorite part of his experience was the new friends he made.Comment on this story
"This week we’re all gathering around and watching our new friends compete, and that’s really, really fun," Mond said.
Viewers can watch Mond compete against Jake Allen of Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and Ranjani Sheshadri of Friendswood, Texas, on Friday, May 11, at 6:30 p.m. MDT on KJZZ Channel 14.
But Mond encouraged viewers to watch the Teachers Tournament all week.
"There's 15 pretty good teachers and 15 pretty good players," Mond said. "It’s a nice thing to support.”