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Teacher wins big on ‘Jeopardy!’ — Wife of Lincoln County sheriff’s deputy earns $18K on television show

A Brookhaven woman knew the right questions to ask Alex Trebek, earning her a two-day total of $18,200.

Kelly Griffin, a fifth-grade science teacher at Rod Paige Middle School, appeared on “Jeopardy!” twice this week. She filmed the episodes in one day back in February and kept the big secret from family, friends and coworkers for nearly six months.

On Monday, she took on a financial planner from Omaha, Nebraska, and a lawyer from Ontario, Canada. Griffin knew New Jersey was named after a European island, while both of the men guessed Maine. That bit of knowledge earned her $16,200 and a move to the seat closest to Trebek for Tuesday’s show.

But unfortunately, the 37-year-old didn’t know much about Bangladesh’s movie industry and it cost her. She’d earned $18,000 going into Final Jeopardy, but wagered most of it. It was a big move and it cost her. She didn’t answer the question.

Griffin finished the episode in second place, just ahead of an electrical engineer from Colorado and behind the Arkansas lawyer.

“I’m no Ken Jennings,” she said, referring to the legendary computer scientist who won 74 “Jeopardy!” games in a row in 2004.

Appearing on the show was a childhood dream of Griffin’s. She’d grown up in Massachusetts watching it with her dad and brother. It was a nightly tradition.

In the past 15 years, she’s passed online tests and auditioned twice for the show but never made the cut. She and her husband, Peter, binge watched the game show, watching a week’s worth in a day. After they moved to Brookhaven from Boston a few years ago, her husband urged her to try out again.

She aced an online test of about 50 questions and was invited to Houston, Texas, to audition in December.

She was pregnant and suffering from severe morning sickness. She decided not to stress about the audition and just have fun. She made it.

The Griffins flew to Culver City in Los Angeles County in February for filming.

Being on the show was a bit different than shouting answers — or rather questions — at her TV screen. She had to master the buzzer to get through six categories and three rounds. That’s sometimes harder than getting the answers correct because if you can’t buzz in, Trebek doesn’t call on you. Griffin said the secret is in the timing. As Trebek reads each clue, the contestants ponder the correct response to give. As he utters the final syllable, it’s time to buzz in. If they hit their button too soon, they’re penalized with a delay. If they hit the sweet spot though, and give the correct question for the clue, then they’re in the money.

“I had lots of practice with the buzzer, but it’s hard,” she said.

She listened for Trebek to finish the question and watched for the lights at her podium to signal its time to start pressing.

“If you ring in too early, the buzzer locks you out for about a quarter of a second,” she said.

While appearing on “Jeopardy!” was a thrill, it isn’t the most exciting thing to happen to the Griffins this year.

Maggie Griffin, the couple’s first child, was born in April. Maggie’s dad, a deputy for the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office who is part of the deployed Army National Guard out of Monticello, was able to come home from Fort Bliss for a few days to witness the big event.

It’s a good thing he was home because Griffin suffered heart failure after Maggie’s arrival and spent a few days in intensive care.

“The doctors said I’ll make a full recovery. And she’s perfect,” she said.

Griffin is spending her summer vacation with Maggie. She was able to travel to Texas to see her husband before he headed to Kuwait with his unit, and she visited her parents this week in Boston to watch the two episodes with them. That’s how they found out she won.

“They were definitely surprised,” she said. “I’m good at keeping secrets.”

What she’s not keeping secret is her plan for the winnings when she gets them. Red tape requires her to wait 120 days after the episode airs to collect and then there’s a chunk that goes to Uncle Sam. What’s left will go into a college fund for Maggie and an anniversary trip for the family in Hawaii next summer.