My Misguided Jeopardy Judging

No, we aren’t senior citizens yet, but Sidney and I do something that is characteristic of married couples in their seventies. We watch Jeopardy almost every week night. Although some aspects of the show bother me, we are both extreme Jeopardy fans and enjoy competing against each other.

When you watch Jeopardy with the frequency that we do, you see a lot of contestants come and go. You start to develop a criteria for what you like to see in your “model” Jeopardy player. Just like it is easy to judge an athlete while watching a game or a cast member while watching a reality TV show, it becomes easy to judge Jeopardy contestants as well.

Last week, a woman appeared on Jeopardy who probably didn’t meet my criteria for the perfect contestant. She spoke really softly. She didn’t command a presence. She seemed awkward talking to Alex. She simply looked as if she didn’t want to be there. If Vegas took odds on Jeopardy outcomes I would have bet against her because she didn’t look like a champion to me.

As if I was trying to back up my imaginary bet, I openly told Sidney heading into Final Jeopardy that I hope she didn’t win because she just didn’t seem to have enough energy.

She won.

The very next day I read something that troubled me. The soft spoken Jeopardy winner from last night had passed away eight days ago. Cindy Stowell, a content science developer from Texas, was 41. All Jeopardy shows are taped well in advance of the actual air date and the episode Sidney and I watched the previous evening was shot in August.

Alex Trebek and Cindy Stowell pose for this photo (photo courtesy of Jason Hess).

Alex Trebek and Cindy Stowell pose for this photo (photo courtesy of Jason Hess).

In a Jeopardy rarity, Cindy not only competed in August, she auditioned that month as well. You see, if a person is successful in the Jeopardy auditioning process, he/she usually won’t compete until many months down the road. However, Cindy didn’t have several months left. Battling Stage 4 cancer, she knew she would die soon. In a great act of humanity, the Jeopardy producers took steps to expediate the process and let her appear on the show despite a very short turnaround.

If only I had showed Cindy the same humanity that the Jeopardy producers did.

Because I immediately judged her, I didn’t see what I probably could have figured out if I had a more open mind. On the Jeopardy set during that show, Cindy was an extremely sick individual who has literally devoting every ounce of her energy to making it through the taping. She spoke softly because cancer doesn’t give you much leverage in booming out your answers. She didn’t “command the appearance” I look for because her disease had made her already small frame even more fragile. She engaged in an awkward dialogue with Alex that – on second thought – really wasn’t awkward at all. No, not awkward…courageous.

And the part I said about her not wanting to be there? I couldn’t have been more wrong. Competing on Jeopardy was a lifelong goal of Cindy’s and she was achieving it in winning fashion in front of the world.

I bring this story up to illustrate what judging can do. It made me look and feel like a heartless jerk. It is not only ignorant to try to summarize a person’s life story off of 20 minutes, it is also impossible. 

The remarkable tale of Cindy Stowell gets better. Her success didn’t end with the victory that aired last Tuesday. Rather, she continued to win and is at the very least a six-day champion. We won’t know how long her August winning streak stretched until all the tape delayed episodes play out. But we do know this: Per Cindy’s request, all of her winnings (currently at $103,803) will be donated to cancer research.

Cindy Stowell is the epitome of a champion. May she rest in peace. Don’t Blink.

One thought on “My Misguided Jeopardy Judging

  1. I had seen on internet that she passed away before her shows have aired. You can tell it took a lot for her to compete so young. Enjoy each day