After winning the Tournament of Champions on "Jeopardy!," West Allis resident Michael Falk took the other contestants, and their guests, out for dinner.
"When the cameras weren't filming, we joked that the winner had to buy dinner," Falk said. "So I bought dinner for everyone."
Falk had just won more than $300,000 on the trivia game show, and, although he didn't have the money in hand, he was still true to his word.
Falk took the contestants, and their guests, to a restaurant in Los Angeles, where the NBC studio is located. It cost Falk more than $700.
"That was one of the most impulsive, exciting things I've ever done. We had an absolute blast," he said.
Finding a calling
Falk was a meteorologist and newlywed when he qualified for "Jeopardy!" in 2006.
"I've been interested in trivia and game shows my entire life," said Falk, who is now a junior high math teacher at St. Mary's Visitation School.
"I was very nervous, almost quaking," Falk said, describing his first time on the show. "It was very exciting and stressful, but very fun as well. Alex (Trebek) and the show's producers make it feel like you're a superstar; they want to make the experience such a positive thing."
Falk won that first "Jeopardy!" competition. And the next one. And the one after that.
After a three-day stint on the show, Falk had won $60,000; but his winnings didn't stop there. He was invited back onto the show later in 2006 to compete in a two-week Tournament of Champions, where he won an additional $250,000.
In total, Falk competed in eight games.
"Part of what I did with my winnings was to go back to school to be a teacher," Falk said. He had been considering making the career change earlier, but "my winnings helped make that possible."
"I also bought a new house outright and can go through life without having to pay a mortgage," he added.
To celebrate its 30th anniversary, "Jeopardy!" will begin filming "The Battle of the Decades" in late January. The tournament will welcome back 15 contestants from each decade of the show's history —the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. Winners from each decade competition will ultimately face each other for the grand prize: $1 million.
"It really is an impressive roster of competitors," said Falk, who was chosen as one of the 45 contestants to come back to the show. "They're pretty much who ever made a splash on 'Jeopardy!'"
He flies to Los Angeles on Monday, and there is a school full of fans happy to see him go.
"They've been really excited about it from the start," Falk said.
He said he hopes his experience with the game show will reinforce the school's attitude that learning can be fun and that "it's worthwhile to know things."
Trivia in school
To get students excited about learning, Falk and his colleague, middle school social studies teacher Burke Seeberg, began the academic Quiz Bowl in 2010.
The Quiz Bowl, modeled after the "Jeopardy!" game show, uses categories to test students' knowledge of different topics.
The school's team of about 30 students has qualified for national championships.
"The culture here (at the school) is that trivia and knowledge is cool," Falk said. "They're eating it all up."
Principle Mary Tretow credits students' love of learning to Falk's teaching style.
"Michael is one of the most gifted teachers I've ever worked with in my career," Tretow said. "He appropriates that love of learning in all of his classes ... and to be able to bring that TV-ism to the school is just wonderful. I think we have future 'Jeopardy!' contestants in our midst thanks to him."
The episodes will not air until later this year, so Falk will be obligated to keep the results secret.
If he does happen to win the $1 million, Falk said, he plans to keep his purchases modest.
"I'd like to go on vacation somewhere I can scuba dive, and maybe buy a fast sports car — that'd be my splurge purchase — but I'd also like to save for my son's education," Falk said.
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