Jeopardy! contestant Mattea Roach will no longer build on her 23-game winning streak and US$560,983 in winnings after Friday’s single-dollar loss.
The Toronto-based tutor was in the lead with US$19,200 heading into Final Jeopardy!. But she wagered US$3,601, and when she did not respond correctly, she came in second with US$15,599. Challenger Danielle Maurer, who had US$11,400 and wagered US$4,200, won with US$15,600.
Ms. Roach’s streak and winnings put her at Number 5 on both the all-time consecutive games list and the all-time highest regular-season winnings list, only surpassed by Jeopardy! legends Ken Jennings, Amy Schneider, Matt Amodio and James Holzhauer.
But Ms. Roach’s influence goes beyond the game. Her unique charisma – authentic, relaxed and interspersed with witty monologues accentuated by meme-able wrist movements – made her a delight to both the hardened Jeopardy! enthusiast and those who’d never before tuned in.
The champ spoke to The Globe and Mail about her remarkable run, reflecting on her experience, her pregame psych up and what it’s like to be suddenly thrust into the limelight.
How are you feeling now that your run is over?
I don’t feel badly at all about the way that I played in the game. I was super happy for Danielle. She was a very deserving champion. I remember Ken Jennings asked me at some point after we stopped tape, “How do you feel?” And the one thing that I could think of to say to him was, “I get to go home.”
What did you do when you got home?
When I got home, I lay down. I don’t think I even took a nap. I think I just lay down for a couple hours. When it was over, it was just this release of pent up energy. I just had not do anything for a couple of days. I was like, “Oh, thank goodness.”
What do you do to set yourself up before the camera starts? What gets you in the right headspace?
I was drinking so many of the little bottles of water that they have on TV sets and going to the washroom all the time. I also started doing squats at the podium to crack my knees. I don’t know why. Also, sort of weird because I’m really not religious in my regular life, but I said Hail Mary’s before every game.
Did you enjoy playing the game?
I enjoyed it so much. I just felt in the zone. In terms of the way that I talked during games and the way that I’m moving my hands when I’m telling my anecdotes, all of it was spontaneous and authentically. Just a product of me really enjoying myself.
When you watched with friends and family, what was that like, seeing yourself on TV?
My fifth game, I watched that with my aunt, uncle, two of my cousins and my cousin’s kids. And you could cut the tension in the room with a knife. I was just sitting there pretending like I didn’t know at all what was going to happen. It was so funny just to see the reaction when I’ve known for months that it was going to happen this way.
What’s it like suddenly being in the limelight?
I would describe it as overstimulation because if you wanted to, you really could just spend all day in this hall of mirrors, where all you do is look at what people are saying about you online. The fact that, for instance, most times that I leave the house now somebody recognizes me from Jeopardy! – it’s really weird to get used to because it happened really fast.
But I’ve realized that I should really just appreciate the fact that people are so excited on my behalf and excited about this wonderful thing. This is probably one of the best things that’s happened to me so far in my life. I should just embrace the fact that people are so excited about it. Because who gets to have this experience?
Part of your fame might come from the fact that we’re not used to seeing someone your age on Jeopardy!. So given your success, what do you think this means for the future of the game? Do you think there’s a space for future young contestants?
I think there’s always been a place for young people in Jeopardy!. And I think Alex Trebek even used to say it’s a young person’s game when people would ask him how he would do as a contestant. And I wonder if maybe younger people these days are Wikipedia-rabbit-holing their way to general knowledge more than than they did before.
How about you? How did you accumulate so much knowledge so young?
I actually don’t think of myself as particularly knowledgeable. I say so often that I need to read more about things. If there’s a fact that’s on the tip of my tongue and I can’t remember it, I go out of my way to look it up.
Do you feel like your memory is a steel trap?
I would describe my memory of like flypaper, more so than a steel trap. I was never going to catch everything, but it catches a lot and then, once it catches, it stays there for a long time.
So, you’ve won quite a bit of money. What are you going to do with it?
Once I realized I had earned quite a lot of money, I realized that I wanted to sit on the vast majority of it for a couple of years. And then once I’m more settled and I know where I want to be living in the long term, I want to hopefully use the money as a starter to buy a home.
I also haven’t travelled a lot as an adult, particularly because the two years since I’ve been out of school have been the two years of the pandemic. So some money will probably go to travelling.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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