This 23-year-old Canadian ‘Jeopardy!’ winner offers advice on getting in the zone

Backstage she was nervous, but when 23-year-old Mattea Roach took to the “Jeopardy!” stage, she got into her zone.

“You’re almost in a fugue state, honestly, when you’re doing it,” she said. “It’s the closest thing that I think I’ve had to an out-of-body experience.”

Roach, who grew up in Halifax and now lives in Toronto, first taped the show in January with host Mayim Bialik. She is scheduled to appear for the fourth time Friday as the reigning champion, and can’t say at this stage (per contestants’ agreement with the show) whether she wins that game and appears in further rounds of the show.

After three days on the show, though, Roach has amassed $80,400 (US) in winnings — Bialik said Roach mounted a “champion caliber” performance during one game, answering 36 trivia questions correctly.

What is clear is that, even though Roach says she did not have extensive trivia experience prior to going on “Jeopardy!,” she has an uncommon talent for the game. And she has some advice for people who want to channel a little Roach energy on their next high-stakes interview, test or performance.

Roach attributes her success not to a penchant for trivia in particular, but to a talent for remembering things and her focused — almost blissful — ability to get in the zone in a high stress environment.

She says there are many things she’s pursued that have helped prepare her for the show. There’s the competitive debate she participated in, which prepared her to think quickly on her toes. She’s a tutor for the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT), which honed her analytical skills and sense of strategy. And then there’s her de ella inner information sponge that has long encouraged her to soak up facts — from memorizing world capitals at the age of four to asking her friends about the things they’ve learned.

“I almost feel as though, inadvertently, everything that I’ve done in my life has in some way contributed to me being able to be successful at ‘Jeopardy!’”

Watching the games this week, Roach said she realizes that what seemed to matter most was that, during the games, she was really in the game, and was able to tune out all the noise around her.

It’s something she thinks everyone has the ability to do.

“This is not really novel advice, but the number one thing that I remind myself of when I’m in a situation like that is you need to only focus on the things that you can control,” she said. “Anything where there’s other people involved, there is fundamentally going to be uncertainty. You cannot prepare for every possible thing that could happen.”

That gave Roach a sense of calm, and control over the situation. During a game of “Jeopardy!” her choices of her were pretty limited, and clear.

First she tried to read the clues quickly and determine if she knew the answer or not. If she knew, she would buzz. If she did not, she would not.

“It was paring it down to the real like basic elements that you are actually in charge of… and I find that comforting because it means I can handle the things that are up to me,” she said.

As far as memory and general knowledge are concerned, Roach doesn’t have any top tips. She said she’s not the kind of person who sits down to memorize things in lists, with the exception of those world capitals, years ago.

But a general curiosity doesn’t hurt. A lot of what Roach knows she has picked up from reading, or talking with friends about their university studies.

“I’m just lucky I’ve got a lot of mostly useless information kicking around in my brain but then in moments like ‘Jeopardy!,’ it becomes useful,” she said.

It was also meaningful to Roach to have a “Jeopardy!” streak representing Canada, especially since Canadians were not well represented on the show during the COVID-19 pandemic, when travel restrictions were in place. The game’s late host, Alex Trebek, was famously proud of his Canadian roots.

“I always cry every time I think about this. But people made a point of telling me ‘Alex would have been so proud of you,’” she said. “So that was very special. I’m very proud to be part of the legacy of Canadians of ‘Jeopardy!’”


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