2016-02-10 00:00:00.0
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Features

COUPLES WHO J!: TWO BRAINS ARE BETTER THAN ONE

When like-minded individuals convene to compete on Jeopardy!, it’s not unusual to see sparks fly. We spoke to seven couples who either met or have a romantic connection directly as a result of their appearance on Jeopardy! Click below to read the full article.

Dan Melia and Dara Hellman

Catherine Whitten and Justin Hofstetter with their kids.

Daniel Granof and Catherine Ewen

Emily and Stacy Cloyd

Brigid Laurie, Mark Urciuolo and their kids Alex and Maggie.

Maryanne Lewell and Michael Townes

Kelli and Eddie Timanus

Nerves racing, palms sweating, the stage manager starts counting backwards from “5...4...3…” and a little voice in the back of your head whispers, “don’t mess this up.” You’re about to appear on national television. Your senses are heightened as you get the feel of the buzzer and adjust to the lights in the studio. Then your eyes lock with an intriguing stranger. They’re gazing at you, too. In the middle of this once-in-a-lifetime moment, you’re also about to meet the love of your life. All the emotions! For 32 seasons, contestants have confronted this whirlwind of experiences on set at Jeopardy! while simultaneously maintaining a cool exterior for the cameras – undoubtedly a tough balance to strike.

When like-minded individuals convene to compete on Jeopardy!, it’s not unusual to see sparks fly. We spoke to seven couples who either met or have a romantic connection directly as a result of their appearance.

Meet Brigid Laurie, married to Mark Urciuolo (both of whom appeared in the ‘97 College Championship), who recalled a little-known genealogical phenomenon: “Not many people are aware of the Jeopardy! Nerd Breeding Program. After we were released into the wild, we successfully bred two new nerds: our son Alex and our daughter Maggie.” [see photo gallery] Coincidentally (or not?), the producer who heads the Jeopardy! contestant department, is named Maggie and, well...you can probably guess who the Alex refers to. Luckily for them, Brigid and Mark never competed with each other on air, as she remarked they wouldn’t have been able to talk afterwards. Instead, they get their competitive jabs in by playing Jeopardy! at home, together.

Things worked out differently for the next couple whose name may ring a bell. In the case of Eddie Timanus, the fame of being a Jeopardy! champion preceded him.

In October of 1999, Eddie Timanus won five games in a row, which was, at the time, the most a contestant could win (we later lifted the cap). Unfortunately, we had to say goodbye to Eddie, but what happened next was the product of a little Jeopardy! magic. While discussing game shows in a group mailing list, Kelli – a high school social studies teacher – tapped Eddie for some ideas on how she might integrate game shows into her teaching curriculum. After providing Kelli with an educational spark, the metaphorical ball began rolling. And it picked up speed. Eddie recalled, “She sent me a note thanking me for helping her fill the last few minutes of her class, and things progressed from there.” After a while, the two – who lived nowhere near each other (Kelli in Minnesota, Eddie in Virginia) – had dinner one summer night while Kelli was visiting a friend in Northern Virginia. After dinner, Eddie recalls “a lovely walk...I just...had the sensation that I had just found The One. It would seem she concurred.”

But it doesn’t stop there. As sweet an ending as that might have been, Eddie told us that a few months later, during a visit with Kelli’s parents, “Her dad told me they felt like they kind of knew me already.” How’s that for skipping introductions?

In keeping with skipped introductions, Dara Hellman and husband Dan Melia were already a couple previous to appearing on air. However, they cemented the lasting impact of Jeopardy! when they were married on set with Alex Trebek as their official witness and Jeopardy! champion Bob Harris as officiant.

While Dan and Dara may be the only one of these couples to have married on set, Stacy and Emily Cloyd are the only ones to face off on air. After meeting in 2010 while chatting between the pre-show rehearsal games, they happened to get called up for the same show, which Stacy won “in a runaway.” Neither one being a bad sport, they held a joint viewing party in Washington, DC, when their episode aired in March. Their connection intensified and, in the fall, the two started dating. Funnily enough, it seems that there could have been multiple opportunities for this relationship to flourish – both went to the University of Michigan and live in Washington, DC – to which they remarked, “although we both live in DC, it’s unlikely that we would have met [if not for Jeopardy!].” Another win for Jeopardy!’s contestant department!

Other great stories from Couples Who J!:

Daniel Granof and Catherine Ewen
Met September 14, 2014, waiting for the shuttle to the Jeopardy! set.

- Memorable first exchange: Daniel said he heard that Ken Jennings had recently lost. Catherine replied, “That’s too bad. I was hoping to be the one to take him down.” Daniel was...impressed.

- Fortune favors the bold: “We both remember one moment in the gallery where we were trying to talk but someone else's bag was on the seat between us,” says Daniel. To get closer, he simply picked up the bag and moved it out of the way. Now Catherine was impressed.

- Daniel on their wedding: “Naturally Alex got an invitation to the wedding! Maggie Speak sent along his regrets and said he'd be sending something. We forgot all about it until Catherine's mom interrupted our carefully planned wedding reception to set up a screen on our dance floor for "someone's video." We were irritated until we saw Alex on screen doing a Final Jeopardy clue to which we were the correct response and then toasting us with champagne!”

Catherine Whitten and Justin Hofstetter
Met at 2012 Teachers Tournament.

- When they hit it off: After the tournament was over, a large group of the contestants met to have drinks and dinner and that’s when sparks started to fly. Later they burst into flame with the assistance of co-contestants Nate Rice and Steven Evenhouse, when Justin serenaded Catherine with “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” by The Proclaimers.

- Catherine on the role Jeopardy! plays in their lives: “I remember being at an educational conference in July where people at the table wanted to discuss how each of us met our spouse/significant other. I basically said, ‘You’ll want to save me for last, because my story has a habit of derailing conversations like this.’”

- Are they still competitive? When Catherine was giving birth to their son, the nurse who was monitoring the strength of Catherine's contractions would sometimes switch the monitor screen to show the contraction levels of all the other delivering moms on that floor. “Whenever Cat would have a contraction, we would joke about how she was beating all the other moms at contraction intensity.”

Michael Townes and Maryanne Lewell
Met at the 2013 Teachers Tournament. Became engaged in summer of 2015.

- Maryanne on how their relationship started: “The whole group of teachers was really great, and we all kept in touch after we taped, and after the shows aired.  We’re still most of us in touch, actually.  As we all started communicating, it became obvious to Michael and to myself that we had a tremendous amount in common.  Soon we were talking back and forth regularly online, and that eventually led into a long-distance relationship.”

- The key to their connection: Although they still live in separate countries, Maryanne says they have a great deal in common: “...likes, dislikes, sense of humour, general temperament.  I still have some convincing to do on the merits of winter and winter sports though.” Michael agrees; “We've found that the Jeopardy screening process is a truly excellent filter for finding people with whom you have a lot in common and don't have trouble carrying on a conversation. And I admire her steadfastness in trying to convince the Southern guy used to 100-degree summers of the "merits" of winter.”

- How Jeopardy! still impacts their lives: “The fact that we met on Jeopardy! is a constant source of interest and amusement to the good people working the Canadian and American Border Services.”

The responsibility of casting Jeopardy! is on the contestant department, which consistently finds the best contestants possible. Many of our contestants, including those who try out, have lots in common, so it’s not unexpected for lifelong friendships, even marriage, to blossom as a result – a point of pride for us. We’re thrilled to have learned that every couple is still together, and some of the stories they shared, admittedly, turned us a deep shade of red. Now, in addition to “entertainers” and “educators,” we feel confident in adding “matchmakers” to our list of accolades.