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05.06.2022

Mattea Roach: 'This Experience Has Changed Me Forever For the Better'

I got the call inviting me to appear on Jeopardy! on January 5, 2022. Just a few days prior, I had rung in the New Year with a less-than-celebratory conversation with one of my closest friends about how unmoored and directionless I had been feeling recently. I was only working part-time, and I was waiting to receive admissions decisions from several law schools, all of which I felt certain would reject me. Everywhere I looked, I saw people in my age bracket who were accomplishing things and moving forward in their lives, but I felt stagnant, and as a result, despondent. Enter, Jeopardy!

My appearance on Jeopardy! didn't feel in any way predestined — although I had long held the notion that I would be capable of doing well on the show should I get the chance to play, it never occurred to me that this chance was within my reach. I submitted my first (and only!) Anytime Test on a whim while marooned at my parents' house in November 2020, and my attitude at each subsequent step of the audition process was one of "I may as well do this for fun, since there's no real risk of me being cast on the show!" Of course, I was wrong about that point, and I'm so grateful that I was. 

I genuinely did not believe, prior to a few months ago, that I was capable of enjoying myself with such wild abandon. And the realization that such joy is possible for me has changed me forever for the better.

 

The most obvious thing I've gained from my run on Jeopardy! is the money. I have no idea what $560,983 in winnings will amount to after the IRS takes their share and I convert the rest into Canadian dollars, but I know that it's enough money to reshape my financial future. The best possible outcome that I had dared to dream of in the weeks before taping my first episodes was that I might win enough money to cover the remainder of my student loan. Now, I'm looking at earnings that could put me through law school debt-free, or that could serve as the better part of a down payment for a home a few years down the road. I never expected that becoming a 23-day Jeopardy! champion would be my pathway to financial security in my twenties, but I feel so blessed that things have turned out this way.

I would posit, though, that the intangible rewards of my run on Jeopardy! have been just as transformative for me as the more tangible ones. I come off as a generally extroverted and bubbly person on the show, so some Jeopardy! viewers may be surprised to learn that I'm naturally much more introverted and private. Until recently, I viewed myself as a pessimistic and neurotic person by nature. I found it difficult, even in moments when I was experiencing great success or when I was doing things that were objectively enjoyable, to disconnect myself from thought processes which reminded me that all good things must eventually come to an end. Such thinking sucks the joy out of what should be profoundly joyful experiences!

Instead, my time in the Jeopardy! studio caused a pronounced shift in my mindset. From the moment you step onto the Sony lot in Culver City, Calif., as a Jeopardy! contestant to the moment you leave, you’re shrouded in the infectious positive energy of all the contestant-facing Jeopardy! staff, from the contestant producers and coordinators; to the stage crew; to the hair, makeup, and wardrobe team who make us contestants look good on camera. Even though I had spent the three weeks between getting called to appear on the show and taping my first batch of episodes in a nervous fugue, it was impossible for me to maintain a bad mood while I was on the lot. If I looked like I was having the time of my life while taping my games, it’s because I was — I genuinely did not believe, prior to a few months ago, that I was capable of enjoying myself with such wild abandon. And the realization that such joy is possible for me has changed me forever for the better.

But perhaps the most rewarding part of my Jeopardy! experience has been hearing from family, friends, and strangers who feel that my appearances on the show have made a positive impact on their lives. Although I wasn’t able to join my family’s viewing parties in Nova Scotia until the end of my run, I was so moved by the way that so many of my extended family members and wider community members — including some that I haven’t seen in over a decade — came together to celebrate me, night after night. I’ve received accounts of friends’ families having Zoom watch parties across different provinces and states, of former teachers showing highlights of my games to their classes before delving into coursework, and of former coworkers happening across my games playing on TV in bars. Especially meaningful to me have been the messages and tweets I’ve received from fellow young LGBTQ+ people who have felt a kinship with me throughout my run, and who feel that their families’ acceptance and celebration of my performance on the show has opened the door for them to be accepted and celebrated too. My identity as a lesbian is far from the most important or interesting thing about my run on Jeopardy! (at least in my opinion), but it’s important to me personally. I’m glad that in some small way, my being openly and authentically myself has been helpful to others.

One exhilarating and terrifying thing about being young is the vast uncertainty that lies ahead of you — if I’m lucky, I could live another sixty or seventy years, and I haven’t the faintest idea what I will spend most of that time doing. I received the first of what will hopefully be several law school acceptances while my episodes were airing, so a Juris Doctor is in the cards for me. Beyond that, though, I don’t know what my future holds. The thought of not knowing what life has in store for me used to fill me with dread, but not anymore. 

After all, I certainly never expected to be on Jeopardy!, and look how that turned out!