Toronto ‘Jeopardy!’ phenom on the lesser-known challenge of repeat wins: host banter


“Jeopardy!” champ Mattea Roach has proven she can conquer dozens of quiz clues with ease.

But in addition to displaying superior skill with the buzzer, the Toronto-based phenom has had to prepare for another challenge that can get harder with each win: coming up with engaging anecdotes for each TV episode.

Such are the lesser-known consequences of dominating “Jeopardy!” categories like the 23-year-old Roach, whose 17 wins give her the show’s longest win streak by a Canadian and the eighth-longest run in the quiz show’s history.

“Jeopardy!” champion-turned-host Ken Jennings holds the record with 74 consecutive wins in 2004.

“It does get hard,” Roach said when reached by phone on the day of her 13th episode.

“I didn’t watch Ken’s run all the way through as a kid because I was like, five, six years old when it was happening but I’m sure that he must have really been scraping the bottom of the barrel by the end of it.”

As of Wednesday’s game, Roach had collected a total haul of US$396,182and had cracked the Top 10 list of the show’s highest earners in regular-season play.

She has also earned a spot in the show’s Tournament of Champions, set to air in the fall.

Show banter is typically featured after the first commercial break, when hosts Jennings or Mayim Bialik offer each contestant a few minutes to tell the audience about themselves.

In past episodes, Roach has regaled them with accounts of her first kiss, crashing her mom’s car in a parking lot and being spat on at a comedy show.

As long as she keeps winning, she’ll need more stories.

Roach lives in Toronto, but she has said on the show that she spent her childhood and part of her adolescence in Halifax, and has also lived in Calgary and Moncton, N.B.

Roach said her parents have helped her generate banter material, but there’s a strategy to deploying these personal tidbits to best effect. When she first started appearing, she gave the show “deliberately boring and generic content.”

“I did not want to go on, play one game and then my anecdote in that game is something where I feel like I’m gassing myself up and telling a story about something that feels boastful,” she explained.

“But then after my first four shows, we had a break in taping and I remember texting the producer who handles the contestant anecdotes, and I was like, ‘I need to give you better material. Because the stuff that I sent you the first time is like, really boring. And I promise I’m more interesting than this.”’

Roach said the show provides contestants with a sheet of questions with prompts to inspire stories. Her first was about her most prized possession – her dad’s jean jacket from the ’80s.