View All Profiles

vossler on jeopardy

Moravia teacher is 'Jeopardy' material

Posted September 19, 2017 by Liza Frenette



No one wants to see a student in jeopardy. But Moravia teacher Justin Vossler was willing to put himself there.

On the television game show, that is. With Alex Trebek. Yes, that Jeopardy!

The Cayuga County teacher played six games and won five, came home with a chunk of cash, having practiced everything that teachers preach about the importance of doing homework.

He read encyclopedias on his flight to Los Angeles for the tapings, and woke up at 3 a.m. each day to study.

Vossler even caused a bit of a stir on the show when one of his answers on a historical fact concerning 19th century Russia was called incorrect but then, on a break, another producer and the show’s lawyer and contestant advocate validated that Vossler was indeed correct. Leave it to a global studies teacher to nail that one.

Vossler is also a coach, economics teacher, and a high school building representative for the Moravia Teachers Association, his local union. He said NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene DiBrango sent him a nice letter of congratulations.

His shows were aired in July, and he went back to his hometown of Wellsville, in western New York, to join a party of family, friends, former teachers and coaches to cheer him on.

“It was mortifying to see myself on TV,” he said. “It’s awkward. When they showed the interview portion, I even stepped out of the party!”



Back in Moravia, students and parents had watch parties and displayed banners of his photo with host Alex Trebek.

“Another set of parents was traveling and in an airport restaurant. They asked to turn the TV on to Jeopardy! They got the entire restaurant cheering and watching Jeopardy!” Vossler said.

“My grandmother was a big Jeopardy! fan,” he said. “If we were at her house, she’d always invite us into the living room to watch it. She said it was exercising our brain.”

Jeopardy! is a long-running quiz show where contestants are given answers, and then must provide the question. It is chock full of trivia about geography, pop culture, history, entertainment, literature, sports, movies and more.

A few summers ago, Vossler — who has a lot of facts on hand as a teacher of global 9 and economics — saw a commercial advertising a test to be considered as a contestant on Jeopardy! He took a 50-question online test and was given about 15 seconds to answer each one.

“Nothing ever really came of it,” he said.

Then, last summer, the commercial aired again, and so he took another test.

Shortly afterward, staff from the show contacted him and asked where he would want to be interviewed if he was chosen. He picked New York.

Keeping mum, he traveled to the city in October to be interviewed along with about 20 other people. He took another test, played Jeopardy! for a few minutes, and then performed the “about me” interview portion such as seen on the show. He said he wrote down some facts about himself ahead of time, and wasn’t really nervous.

“I was satisfied with just being asked to interview,” he said. “I thought, ‘That’s a story I could use for awhile!’”

He did notice how smart some of the other potential contestants were and wondered if he could stand up to them.

Jeopardy! staff advised them they might not hear from the show for 18 months, and Vossler went back to teaching and coaching, putting the experience out of his mind. In March, he received a phone call from California, and he was invited out to Los Angeles to be a contestant on the show in April.



“At the time, I was so busy. I was coaching — track season had started — and it was right around the time we have a big project in our curriculum. … I put (Jeopardy!) out of my head until a week before I went,” Vossler said.

“I wasn’t too worried about history and geography, but I recognized I was weak with things like the Oscars, pop culture, TV….” he said.

So Vossler researched “list articles” which named things such as the 100 most important pieces of artwork, the top 100 best movies, Academy Award winners, etc. He studied a lot of these articles.

“And I had an almanac I’d bought when I auditioned in October,” he added.

He flew to LA, studying the entire cross-country plane ride. On the first day at the studio, two episodes were filmed; the next day, four more. He won three of those shows for a total of five winning games and $110,000.

“They do five episodes a day,” he explained.

The taping was exhausting, he said, as the shows were done back-to-back. “You just kind of feel a little tired as the adrenalin wears off.”

Vossler said he knew the question to one answer—the tallest mountain in Canada — (What is Mt. Logan?) but “I didn’t buzz in because I doubted myself.”

In another instance, the answer was “This mark indicates a stamp has been used. “Vossler said he knew what it was called and had even read an article about it, but couldn’t bring the word forth in his mind in time. What is a cancellation mark?

His first game was very close, he said, and he bet the vast majority of his money on Final Jeopardy. He was in second place on the next show, so he knew he had to bet a lot on Final Jeopardy. He did, and won.

By his last game, he said he was “so tired. It’s mentally exhausting.”

He flew home on a red-eye the night of his taping finished up.

“I had to be back. We were interviewing a new member for our department,” he said. No walk on Hollywood Boulevard for him.

At school, he kept quiet about his adventure.

“I didn’t want it to become a distraction,” he said. Finally, in June, school administrators made an announcement and posted it on social media.

Since then, Vossler has been interviewed for his alumni magazines at SUNY Cortland, where he did his graduate work; and for SUNY Geneseo, where he was an undergraduate.

Visit to learn about contestants such as Ken Jennings, who had a 74-game winning streak; Brad Rutter, who has won more than $4 million over 13 years and has never lost (to a human); and Robin Carroll, an American and International Jeopardy! champion.


Leave a comment for the author


NYSUT Footer
Our Voice, Our Values, Our Union