Cheryl Tarpeh knew that her son, William Tarpeh, would do well if he ever went on Jeopardy.
"We watch it as a family. He answers the questions like no one's business," she said.
William Tarpeh recently got his chance to test out that theory when he was one of 15 children selected for Jeopardy's Kids Week. The show was taped in November and aired last week.
"He's a pretty amazing kid," said Cheryl. "He always has a book in his hand."
Yet, William is much more than a seventh grader who attends Carl Sandburg Middle School and gets straight A's. According to a short write-up by William and his mother, "William is a First Class Boy Scout and a homework club tutor at his former elementary school, Stratford Landing. As an avid volunteer, William has been the recipient of the Youth Volunteer Award (only two were given) and the City of Alexandria Outstanding Community Service Award. Recently, William was chosen to participate with other middle school students in District X Orchestra and was a member of Area Honor Band. William enjoys swimming, playing soccer and playing with Groveton Baptist Church Orchestra."
William's English teacher, Kerri Hartling, said, "William is a delight to have in class, and we are so proud of his outstanding achievement on Jeopardy. He is an extremely well-rounded young man who is dynamic, creative, hard-working, and respected by his peers."
WILLIAM'S ROAD TO JEOPARDY began last March when he attended a local tryout session held at a hotel in Washington, D.C. William said that they gave him a verbal test with 20 questions. He wasn't sure how many he needed to get right; all he knew was that he was one of the few asked to continue on with the screening process.
The next step was to play Jeopardy with a computer screen; this gave the screeners a chance to see how his speaking voice was.
When they finished, William said that he was told that he was selected and that they would be contacted in June.
"We never thought we'd be called," said Cheryl, as June came and went.
Yet, in late September, they received a FedEx package from the studio notifying them of the taping session. Then, in November, William, Cheryl and William's sister, Cherlisa, were flown out to Hollywood for the taping.
"We stayed in the Beverly Hills Hilton for four nights," said Cheryl. The taping was Thursday and Friday, so they had plenty of time to go to Disneyland, the San Diego Zoo and the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
The day of the show, William and the other contestants were picked up at the hotel in a van. Cheryl and Cherlisa went to the studio and waited in the rain with other audience members for over an hour.
William's competitors were another middle school boy and girl. They took turns answering questions in categories such as English; I Know that Song; Breakfast Cereals; A Really Big Category; Hats Off; and 1999. In the second round, some of the categories were Language Questions; Broadway; Fictional Characters; and History Older Than You Are. Cheryl said that William did best with the questions having to do with science.
THE FINAL jeopardy question was a tough one — one that none of the contestants guessed correctly. William came close; they were looking for the translation of a German word. The correct answer was 'polar bear,' and William came very close when he guessed 'bear.'
It didn't hurt him too badly as he hadn't gambled a huge sum of money. He emerged as the winner, with $11,200, all of which he was able to take home, along with a computer.
William said, "I will give some of it to my Boy Scout Troop 693 and the rest will be put away for my college education."
As far as how he feels about his 15 minutes of fame, William was ready to get on with his life soon after the show aired. The phone kept ringing with well-wishers, until William finally asked his mother if he could please turn the Internet on. He seemed surprised that at least two of his teachers showed the tape of the show in class. William will be remembered in Carl Sandburg's own Hall of Stars and his photograph with Alex Trebek will remain in the office for all to see.