2013-02-27 / Front Page

Local teacher earns big bucks as game show contestant

By Jim McConnell

Chesterfield County resident Morgan Saxby, a fifth-grade teacher at A.M. Davis Elementary, has earned nearly $134,000 on two televised game shows over the past three years. 
Jim McConnell/Chesterfield Observer Chesterfield County resident Morgan Saxby, a fifth-grade teacher at A.M. Davis Elementary, has earned nearly $134,000 on two televised game shows over the past three years. Jim McConnell/Chesterfield Observer Answering questions correctly has never been a trivial pursuit for Morgan Saxby.

The 29-year-old Chesterfield County teacher has made successful appearances on two televised game shows in the past three years, winning a total of $133,900 on “Jeopardy” and “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”

Staff and students at Saxby’s school, A.M. Davis Elementary, celebrated his February appearance on “Millionaire” during a watch party in the school’s library.

“There was a part at first where, not that they didn’t believe me, but it’s weird to think about your teacher being on TV,” Saxby said of his fifth-grade class. “I think they really enjoyed it.”

While television has padded his bank account and thrust him into the limelight, Saxby’s appearances are just the latest manifestation of his lifelong quest for knowledge. “I’ve always wanted to learn as much as I could about topics that interest me,” he said.

Saxby started showing an interest in books at age 2, according to his father, Steve, who was interviewed by phone last week. He was reading before he went to kindergarten, and it wasn’t long before father and son were watching “Jeopardy” together every evening.

In those days, Steve Saxby always won their informal competitions to see who could correctly answer more questions from the show’s longtime host, Alex Trebek.

“How do you know all this stuff?” Saxby would ask his dad.

“I read a lot,” Steve Saxby would reply.

By the time he was 16, Saxby started beating his father on a regular basis. After one show, Steve Saxby asked his son how he had managed to come by so much knowledge at such a young age.

Saxby’s response: “I read a lot.”

“It’s nice when your kids throw your words back in your face in a good way,” Steve said with a laugh.

Saxby and his wife, Heather Saxby, started dating when they were sophomores at Mills Godwin High School in Henrico County. She was immediately struck by both his intelligence and his curiosity about the world.

“I’m still impressed by the things he retains,” Heather Saxby said. “Sometimes he remembers parts of my life that I don’t even recall. Whereas most people ignore things they hear in the course of their day if it’s not immediately relevant to them, Morgan can connect it to something else he’s heard before. And if not, he wants to know more about it.”

Saxby cultivated his interest in trivia by joining Godwin’s Quiz Bowl team, which takes part in academic competitions. He was also a member of the Academic Competition Club as an undergraduate at the University of Virginia.

All the while, “Jeopardy” remained an item Saxby longed to cross off his bucket list. He got the opportunity in 2010, when he and Heather flew out to California, where he won $68,000 during three successful appearances on “Jeopardy.”

Watching from home, Steve Saxby couldn’t help but think that his son was fulfilling part of his destiny.

“He’s a bright guy, very personable and he has great presence,” he said. “Why shouldn’t he have been on the show?”

Saxby said the experience he gained while filming “Jeopardy” helped ease his nerves after he was selected to compete on “Millionaire” last August.

He went on the show with a game plan and was determined to avoid making the type of risky guesses that doom many of its contestants. He also tried not to obsess about the opportunity inherent in the show’s title.

“If you go in saying, ‘I’m going to win a million dollars,’ you almost certainly will do badly because you’ll gamble and it will come back to bite you,” he said. “My mindset was that I just wanted to play as well as I could.”

Saxby’s conservative approach was tested when he got to the $100,000 question. He needed to answer it correctly to get a shot at higher-dollar questions, but he had used all three of his lifelines. If he answered incorrectly, he stood to lose all but $25,000 of what he already had earned. Instead, he decided to walk away with $65,500. It wasn’t a million, but with the couple’s first child due in June, it‘s money that will come in handy.

“I was torn about his final question,” Heather Saxby said. “On the one hand, I thought maybe he walked away too fast and could have mulled the question longer. On the other hand, as he said in the episode, he had a habit when we would practice of wanting to pick an answer even when he wasn’t sure.

“Sure, it would have been great to keep playing,” she added, “but I know he made the right decision.”

It’s what Saxby does best.

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