For the past 19 weeknights, millions of viewers have welcomed Mattea Roach into their living rooms — or wherever they watch television.
The 23-year-old from Nova Scotia has dominated on Jeopardy! and is already the most successful Canadian to ever compete on the program.
But for her family in Halifax, the fact she’s even on the show is a surprise in itself.
Not because she’s not intelligent — her younger brother actually describes her as “super, super smart” — but because she’s such a private person.
“If it was just knowledge-based and there were no other factors involved, I know that she would compete outstandingly and as well as anybody in the world could,” her mother, Patti MacKinnon, said on the eve of her daughter going for win No. 20.
“But there are a lot of other factors with Jeopardy! A lot of other factors, and some of them involve luck. And then there is the public perception, and you’re putting yourself out there in front of millions of people. And I did not think she would do it because of that.”
With 19 wins under her belt, Roach is now tied for the sixth longest streak in the TV quiz show’s history.
On Friday night, she added another $22,001 USD to her winnings, which now total $460,184. That, too, is the sixth biggest haul in the show’s regular season history.
According to the show’s daily box scores, Roach has given 514 correct responses and 42 incorrect responses so far. That means she has correctly responded to 92 per cent of clues attempted.
Those statistics are impressive, says her younger brother Eamon Roach, but her ability to “put herself out there” is even more incredible.
“I think that she is an incredible role model for young queer people, for young women and just young people in general who are traditionally left out or not included in intellectual spaces.”
“I think that she’s provided someone that people can look up to because she’s killing it on Jeopardy! and people can be inspired by that and think, ‘I can do that too,'” he added.
Last week, an American news network tweeted about her impressive run on the show, and referred to her as a “lesbian tutor.” Roach, who now lives in Toronto, works as a tutor. She’s also open about her sexuality, with her own Twitter bio reading “lesbian, Nova Scotian, 19x Jeopardy champ.”
She told The Canadian Press the network’s tweet was perhaps a little bit clumsy, but otherwise harmless.
“I think it is relevant to my Jeopardy! run, not because it has anything to do with my ability to play the game but because I think it’s part of a larger story regarding queer and trans contestants on this season,” Roach said.
Her family is also aware that public scrutiny comes part and parcel with all the exposure.
On Twitter, for example, comments about contestants will range from their ability to answer trivia, to their clothing, or their mannerisms.
Roach has not been immune to that.
“We talked quite a bit about it before there were even any shows aired,” said MacKinnon.
“She thought long and hard about it and she knew what she was signing on for. And she is, I think, doing an amazing job following through. It’s also not going to last forever. So, you know, there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”
As for when that journey ends, that’s a secret the family is guarding carefully.
MacKinnon has been hosting viewing parties each night, although the crowd size has been limited due to the pandemic.
While she and Roach’s father know the results of each game, they haven’t given any spoilers away.
“As her parents, it makes it bearable. I don’t know how we would be able to maintain any composure whatsoever if we didn’t know the end result,” she said.
“But we don’t know a lot of detail about what happens in the game. So it’s still extremely exciting and people have told us that they cannot read anything from our behavior at all.”
Their next viewing party will be Monday night, when Roach is back to defend her returning champion status and aims to win her 20th game.
— With a file from The Canadian Press