Mattea Roach Isn’t Jeopardy’s First Canadian Master Champions
Five Players From the Great White North Who Did Their Home Country Proud on Jeopardy
At the beginning of Monday’s episode of Jeopardy, Ken Jennings walked out and delivered what appeared to be a humorous ode to many of the great contributions of Canada to the world culture. He finished on two somewhat more serious notes: the fact that Canada was the birthplace of the late Alex Trebek (a fact he was more than proud to emphasis every time there was a reference to Canada on the show) and to Mattea Roach, who was beginning the week having won nine consecutive games and just over $210,000. She happens to hail from Toronto.
As this week Mattea has added quite a bit more luster to her resume. She has won four more games, putting her total (as of Friday night) at fourteen wins, a total that puts her tied for ninth on the all time list of consecutive wins. On Wednesday night, she secured another notch on her belt by being the only player to participate in Final Jeopardy that day, only the sixth time in the thirty eight year history of the series that has ever happened. (She got Final Jeopardy right that night, for the record.) And while she is nowhere the record total of the two other great Jeopardy Champions that have made history this year — Matt Amodio or Amy Schneider — her total of $330,000 is fairly impressive by nearly any other Jeopardy players standards — she is slightly ahead of Julia Collins’, who won twenty games and currently is in second place for most games won by a female contestant on Jeopardy and slightly behind David Madden and Jason Zuffranieri, whose total of nineteen wins she is fast approaching. What is more, she may very well be the most entertaining Jeopardy champion since the days of Austin Rogers, the New York bartender whose hand gestures and comic reactions during the opening sequences helped him go viral in 2017. (She’s passed him in number of games won on Thursday, but trails his twelve day total of $411,100 by a considerable margin.)
It is already clear that Mattea is one of the great players in the history of Jeopardy. How great a player she will end up being remains to be seen — she has a long way to go before she even approaches being one of the greatest players of this season. But at this point, Mattea has managed to pass another, slightly less impressive sounding record. She is the most successful player to have been born in Canada.
As we all know Jeopardy is an American centric game, and it has disadvantages for people who haven’t been born in the United States. Perhaps it is not surprising that the most successful players from any foreign country have been from Canada, where one is constantly aware of what is going on south of the border. And as someone who has been watching Jeopardy practically all his life, I have noticed that some of the greatest players in the history of the show have in fact come from Canada — which is particularly impressive because for a few years in the last decade, Jeopardy said that it would not let Canadians try out for the series. Thankfully, they reversed that decision.
So since I imagine Mattea will be celebrated for years to come and that at some point, columnists will be trying to track down some of the other great Canadian players, I thought I’d list five of the all-time great Canadians to ever play Jeopardy. I will give some highlights of their appearances on Jeopardy, some personal anecdote, and if the occasion calls for it, some of the times they made it very clear they were proud of their Canadian heritage.
Barbara-Anne Eddy — Vancouver, British Columbia
1987–1988 5 Time Champion — $52,000
Quarterfinalist Tournament of Champions -$1000
Ultimate Tournament of Champions — Round 1 — $5000
Barbara-Anne is the only one of these champions who I never saw in action except for a single occasion. But she has several connections to Alex Trebek which are interesting in their own way and I couldn’t resist mentioning her without that.
One of the first shows that Alex Trebek ever hosted was the $128,000 Question. (It’s a variation on a game show that was around close to the early days of television.) Barbara-Anne appeared on that show some time during the mid-1970s and she brought a stuffed frog with her for good luck. (Whether it actually brought her luck is a question for another day.) In 1987, when she appeared on Jeopardy she was stunned to find out that not only did Alex remember her from that show, he remembered the frog and asked her if she’d brought it with her again. The frog did bring her luck on her original run on Jeopardy.
My sole memory of Barbara-Anne was in an appearance she made in the Ultimate Tournament of Champions back in 2005. Once again, she had the frog with her and for much of the game it did seem to be bringing her luck. She had a big lead up through categories like AFRICAN CUISINE and LATIN LEGAL TERMS. Then she found the second Daily Double in ONE LAST ‘EZ’ CATEGORY. She was leading her main challenger Ryan Holznagel $15,000 to $13,711. (Holznagel made weird wagers on Daily Doubles.) Perhaps testing the bounds of the category, she wagered $5600. The Daily Double wasn’t ‘easy’ enough. ‘One of Thomas Edison’s first ever film shorts was of assistant Fred Ott doing this.” Barbara-Anne guessed: “What is on a trapeze?” rather than sneezing. Down she went into second place and never came out.
Bob Blake- 1989 -$82,101 — FIVE DAY RECORD at time — Vancouver
Winner 1990 Tournament of Champions — $100,000
Super Jeopardy Semi-Finalist: $10,000
UTC — $5000
When she passed him in money won last week, Mattea Roach unseated Bob Blake as the most successful Jeopardy champion from Canada. That was actually a smaller demotion because from 1990 until 2001 Bob Blake was the most successful Jeopardy player, period.
Though his five day total of $82,101 may seem far less impressive compared to players like Jennings and Holzhauer, when Bob Blake won $82,101, not only was it a record for the show (it broke Jeopardy pioneer Chuck Forrest’s record of $72,800), it set up a scenario that the producers hadn’t expected. At the time, if you won more than $75,000 you were required to donate the excess to charity. Bob did so, giving his extra $7101 to Oxfarm. (Thankfully for future Jeopardy champions, that regulation was gone by 1991.)
Bob won the Tournament of Champions in 1990, utterly demolishing his two opponents by the time the first game of the final were over. Curiously he had actually made another Jeopardy related appearance the previous summer on Super Jeopardy, a very complicated spinoff that lasted just one season and was supposed to be an annual super tournament. (If you search Ebay, you can find the Nintendo version of the game that was released that same summer). Bob played well among both his Tournaments of Champions often knowing the answers to questions that his fellow Americans didn’t. One prime example came in the Final Jeopardy for his initial Super Jeopardy appearance in the category THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE: “A member of this famous family proposed it and he and his brother signed it for Virginia.” Bob was the only competitor who knew this referred to the Lee family.
Bob’s combined total of $182,101 (it’s never been clear how Jeopardy considers winnings from Super Jeopardy as part of canon) stood until 2001 when Robin Carroll finally managed to surpass it. Even then she needed to win both the 2000 Tournament of Champions and the 2001 International Tournament to manage it. Her all time money total didn’t last nearly as long as Bob’s — in 2002 Brad Rutter won the Million Dollar Masters.
Bob appeared in the Ultimate Tournament of Champions in 2005 and did very well for much of the game. He did not so much lose his first round match as John Cuthbertson (a great player in his own right) managed to win it. I was hoping to see him in the Battle of the Decades in 2014 but because he was apparently traveling the world at the time, he declined to participate. He wasn’t the most conspicuous absentee, but he was missed, certainly by me.
I will close this article on Bob with an anecdote he relayed to Alex expressing both his modesty and his sense of humor. His apparent catch all response when asked if he did anything crazy with his winnings was: “I’m a Canadian and an actuary. What do you think?”
Robert Slaven — $53,202–1991 Yellowhorse, Northwest Territory
Semi-Finalist 1992 Tournament of Champions $5000
Competitor 10th Anniversary Tournament 1993 — $5000
Quarterfinalist UTC — $67,201
I’m more familiar with Robert Slaven’s work on Jeopardy as he appeared in the very first Tournament of Champions I ever watched back in 1992. His $53,202 won in his five games was a sizable amount for a Jeopardy champion in those days before the dollar figures were doubled. In the 1992–1993 season, it was actually one of the lowest totals of any of the champions that year. (Three players won over $70,000 that year and one champion Jerome Vered ended up with $96,000.)
Still there were signs that Robert could be impressive when the pressure was on. In his quarterfinal match he kept close to two good players and managed to emerge the winner. In his semi-final he encountered Jerome (who I personally consider one of the all time greats) and managed to fight him to a near draw. Jerome still beat him, but he had to work for it.
He ended up competed in the 10th Anniversary Tournament the following year and didn’t do particularly well. To be sure, the draw was against him: one of his players was Frank Spangenberg, who at that time in history held the record for the most money won in five consecutive games — a record which lasted for more than thirteen years. Frank, one of the most recognizable and impressive champions history cleaned Robert’s clock on his way to the finals, which he would eventually win.
The reason I consider Robert an impressive player is because of his track record in the UTC. In what amounted to a bracketed tournament, Robert would end up defeating two Tournament of Champions winners on his way to the quarterfinals — Russ Schumacher, who won in 2004, and Michael Dupee, who won in 1996. (He’ll show up briefly later.) I think Robert’s finest hour came in his Round 2 match against Mike and Eugene Finnerman. In what was one of the most exciting competitive matches of a tournament that would end up lasting fifteen weeks, all three players were at the top of their game. Michael finished it in the lead with $21,700. Eugene was in second with $13,200, and Robert trailed with $11,200. In order for Robert to win, he needed both Eugene and Michael to be wrong and for Michael to wager enough so that his ‘crushing’ lead could be surpassed.
The Final Jeopardy category was NEW LAWS. “CEOs must personally certify their corporate books following a 2002 law named for these two men.” It is impressive that Robert knew the correct response and his opponents didn’t, considering the nature of the clue: “Who are Sarbanes and Oxley?” (Both Eugene and Michael thought the clue referred to McCain and Feingold.) Robert was clearly shocked that he managed to win.
His luck extended to the quarterfinals when he went into Final Jeopardy with a lead, but was undone by John Cuthbertson (the same man who had defeated Bob Blake in that tournament)
Robert remains one of the proudest of his heritage. On every game in his UTC appearance, he drew a Canadian flag out of one of the letters in his name (usually the lowercase b or t). And in both his victories in the UTC, he chanted out Canada as his win was confirmed.
Michael Daunt: Waterloo Ontario — $64,198
Finalist 1996 Tournament of Champions — $8200 third Place
Winner 1997 International Tournament of Champions — $35,000
UTC Quarterfinalist — $62,602
Michael Daunt is in many ways a mirror of Robert Slaven, though in some ways he enjoyed greater success. In his initial run, he won $64,198 and in one game won $27,400 — which at the time was the sixth highest one day total. (Of course these days, that’s a very bad day for Matt Amodio, but still…)
He played impressively in his initial games of the 1996 Tournament of Champions winning his quarterfinal match easily, and getting to the semi-finals due to a moment of pure luck. Unfortunately, his luck ran out in the Finals. He played poorly in the first game and while he did better in the second game, by then his opponent Mike Dupee (yes that guy again) had locked up the Tournament.
Redemption would come the next year in the International Tournament of Champions, an event featuring players from Jeopardy franchises across the globe. (Canada doesn’t have one, of course, so the rules were slightly fudge for Michael to participate.) And honestly he had to fight very hard to end up winning this particular tournament. The representative from Norway Per Gunnar Hillesoy out played him most of the first game of the final and actually finished ahead of him in the first game. Even though he played far better in game 2, he was still in a position to lose when it came to Final Jeopardy.
The category was PAINTERS: “His grandson was the cinematographer of Barbarella and The Spy Who Loved Me.” Michael was the only one with a correct answer: “Who is Renoir?” (Pierre’s son was Jean, the famous French filmmaker.)
This was not quite the high point of Michael’s career in Jeopardy: he played superbly in the first round of the Ultimate Tournament of Champions (superb doesn’t cover it, it was basically a massacre) and he managed to get all the way to the quarterfinals before being basically crushed by Jerome Vered (him again) But he remains a personal favorite of mine. When the Battle of the Decades allowed fans to vote for one of five champions to be a ‘fan favorite’ for the 1990s, Michael Daunt was the one I cast my vote for. (He didn’t make it.)
Michael is just as proud of his heritage, though he does know it has a certain flaw. While his original run of the series was airing, his toddler son watched so many episodes that at one point, instead of referring to him as ‘Daddy’, he called him: “Michael Daunt from Waterloo!”
Lan Djang — Toronto — $51,100–2 Camaros
2001 Tournament of Champions — Semi-Finalist -$5000
UTC- Quarterfinalist — $63,100
Lan Djang is actually a very good player who happened to have the misfortune of having his initial run on the show come during a year where there were so many good players. His total was, much like Robert’s, one of the lowest of the participants in that year’s tournament. And when he played in his quarterfinal match, he was getting horribly beaten for most of it. He spent the lion’s share of it in a distant third, and when Final Jeopardy came he had a mere $1200.
The category was 1990S MOVIES. “It was based on the true story of the 4 Niland brothers of Tonawanda, New York.” Lan was the only one of the competitors who knew the answer: “What is Saving Private Ryan?” He doubled his score to $2400. Most years in most tournaments that wouldn’t have been nearly enough for him to qualify for even a high-score for wild card. But 2001 was not most years. Though Lan had no way of knowing (all competitors in tournaments are kept in isolation until their game) there had been many incorrect Final Jeopardys in the previous quarterfinals and many low scores. Lan was as shocked as anyway to find out he’d qualified. Alex said: “It must be the suit!”
Lan’s luck wouldn’t hold past the semi-finals. But he remembered what Alex called “The Intimidator Suit’ and wore it — complete with the Canadian flag pin — when he returned to the Ultimate Tournament of Champions. It served him much better there getting him to the quarterfinals where he just ran into some bad luck.
Note: From 1997 to 2001, five time champions received sports cars along with there winnings. Lan was one of the last players to receive an automobile before the rule change in the fall of 2001.
How long Mattea Roach’s run will last is impossible to say — heaven knows we’ve already seen some remarkable runs this season. But much like these players and Trebek himself, Mattea has done her home country proud. (Even if she still is too gun shy to wager big on Daily Doubles.)