UC Berkeley alumnus Matt Takimoto had no idea that answering “Big Bird” in the last round of Jeopardy! would get him crowned champion.
Takimoto, who graduated from campus’s Graduate School of Education, or GSE, in 2015, ended the night in first place on an episode that aired Feb. 17.
Growing up with a “mind for trivia,” Takimoto recalled playing Trivial Pursuit with his grandmother and watching Jeopardy! from an early age. He spent the last seven years attempting the annual online test, after which contestants are randomly selected to audition for the show if they have met the scoring threshold.
Takimoto said that although he felt confident about the sports and pop culture topics, he expected to struggle with certain categories like geography. To prepare, he memorized all the capitals in Africa and rivers in Asia.
By the time he made it to the Final Jeopardy! round, Takimoto was in second place and did not expect victory until it was announced by show host Ken Jennings.
“Things needed to happen for me to win,” he said. “I happened to be the only person to get Final Jeopardy! right that day. The question was: ‘Despite being on television for more than 50 years, this character is still 6 and a half years old.’ My answer was Big Bird.”
Even after returning to Oakland where he works as a fifth-grade teacher at Glenview Elementary School, Takimoto was unable to tell his class that he won until after the episode was released — although his students tried to do “detective work.”
After the show aired, however, Takimoto was welcomed with support from his students, who watched the show in class, as well as his colleagues.
“We are so excited for Mr. Takimoto’s success,” said Oakland Unified School District, or OUSD, Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell in an email. “He’s an outstanding teacher at Glenview Elementary who, along with immense joy in teaching and learning, brings a broad base of knowledge to share with his students. It’s no surprise that he did well on Jeopardy. Mr. Takimoto continues to make Glenview and OUSD proud!”
Takimoto accredits the “Berkeley experience” for his ability to teach multiple subjects — a skill he says has contributed to his success on Jeopardy.
Campus lecturer Sonal Patel, who taught Takimoto, said she remembers the “voracious” and “joyful” character that Takimoto exhibited during his time at UC Berkeley.
“He’s not someone who did things half-heartedly, he really shows up with all of himself,” Patel said. “He came to the master’s program really well-footed, to be present and soak up all the goodness that Cal had to offer. I have no doubt that he continues to approach everything in life that way.”