June 8, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This article originally published in June 2015 Her Family.

It was a big day in Chris Grinvalds’ life when Jeopardy came back on the air in 1984 after a nine-year hiatus. Every day at his grandparents’ home in Yutan, Neb., Grinvalds and his family would sit together and watch question after question to see who would win it all in Final Jeopardy. Never in his wildest dreams did he think that, 30 years later, he would get the chance to do it himself.

Grinvalds, 42, loves trivia. He loves it so much, he says, that it makes more sense to him than any textbook he’s ever read. According to Grinwalds, trivia is, “how I learn.” For years he attempted to put his skills to good use by applying over and over again to Jeopardy’s online auditions. But he was never chosen. Until one announcement changed everything.

While teaching marketing, world history, and computers at Bennington High School, Grinvalds learned that Jeopardy was holding targeted tryouts in Omaha. He submitted his application and hoped that this was finally his chance. Two weeks later, in December 2013, he got a call inviting him to come to an audition in downtown Omaha.

When he arrived, there were 200 people divided into four groups of 50. First they had to complete a written trivia exam, and if they passed, they were called out in groups of three to play a mock game. They answered a dozen questions while the cameras rolled to see how they would do on screen. Grinvalds nailed it. He felt confident, excited, and hopeful.

But then he waited. And waited. And never heard back from them.

Nearly one year later, the phone rang.

“Chris,” said the caller. “What are you doing in December? We want you to be in the teachers’ tournament for Jeopardy.”

His dream was actually happening.

But what he didn’t anticipate was how much stress it would cause. For the two months leading up to the competition, Grinvalds dealt with insomnia, shingles, and a massive increase in anxiety and anxiousness. He was more nervous than he had ever been in his life.

A comfort to him was his school community. His principal, Dr. Matt Blomenkamp, was behind Grinvalds every step of the way. He told him to do whatever he needed to prepare and be on the show. In fact, the entire school supported him through the whole journey. They even threw a large viewing party in the common area after the show had aired—complete with snacks, an abundance of television screens, and more than 100 students in attendance.

And when the day to compete finally arrived, Grinvalds felt mentally prepared. The problem was, he couldn’t get his nerves to calm down. From the second he hit the stage, he wasn’t comfortable. All the years of waiting for this opportunity overwhelmed him. And although he competed strong and made it with thousands of dollars to Final Jeopardy, he just couldn’t finish as the winner.

But to his school, and to himself, he did win.

“I didn’t lose anything out there,” says Grinvalds. He’s even planning to give it another go after his three-year waiting period is over. “I haven’t quit doing crossword puzzles and trivia,” he says. “I’m going back even stronger and I’ll definitely be ready next time.”

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