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I am old enough to watch Jeopardy without apology or embarrassment. Alex Trebeck, the host of the television answer and question game show for 32 years, has become a friend. As I watch each episode I am sometimes surprised at what I know but more often reminded of how little I know.

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Recently one contestant won several days and amassed a pretty nice sum of money. During each show she showed little emotion. As I watched each episode I wondered why she didn’t show some disappointment when things weren’t going well or how she could keep from getting excited when she won. I was a bit critical of her demeanor. After winning six games and $103,801 I was glad another Jeopardy “champion” was named.

Then I learned Cindy Stowell’s story.

The episodes in which Cindy competed were taped in August and September of this year but her first episode did not air until December 13. Competing on Jeopardy was a life-long dream.

Cindy passed the online contestant test in early 2016. When she received an invitation to an in person interview this past summer she contacted the show’s contestant producer with this message.

“Do you have any idea how long it typically takes between an in person interview, and the taping date? I ask because I just found out that I don’t have too much longer to live. The doctor’s best guess is about 6 months. If there is the chance that I’d be able to still tape episodes of Jeopardy, if I were selected, I’d like to do that and donate any winnings to … charities involved in cancer research. If it is unlikely that the turnaround time would be that quick, then I’d like to give up my try out spot to someone else.”

Learning that the 41 year old science content developer from Austin, Texas had Stage 4 cancer, she was told to attend her audition in Oklahoma City. If she qualified to compete on the show, she would be booked for a taping as soon as the show’s schedule would allow — three weeks later, August 31, 2016.

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Cindy lost her battle with cancer on December 5, eight days before her first episode aired.

When Cindy was in the hospital, Jeopardy sent her advance copies of her first three episodes, so she and her family were able to watch her competing on the show. Jeopardy also expedited Cindy’s prize money, and she received and acknowledged it before she passed.

The family released the following statement: “Cindy came on Jeopardy to play the game she loved and in doing so, she was able to make a contribution to cancer research in the hopes that no one else would have to go through what she did.”

When I learned Cindy’s story I felt bad about my feelings toward her during the shows. But it taught me a few lessons which I will try to incorporate into my life going forward.

  • Be slow to judge. I can’t always see the whole picture or know the full story..
  • Live each day like it was my last. It could be.
  • Maximize opportunities to do good.
  • Focus on what I have and can do, not what I don’t have or think I can’t do.

Jamie Jenkins