Jeopardy has been sharing TV dinner trays and early evening appetizers with viewers since 1964. The wildly popular gameshow features three players (usually MUCH smarter than myself) who compete in trivial knowledge to win money. A “Jeopardy!” champion is crowned each episode, and that champion usually continues to advance to the next game until they are dethroned by a new contestant.
Last week’s episodes of Jeopardy featured a contestant named Cindy Stowell. Like most players, Cindy showed up with her game face on and her knowledge at hand. She looked like your everyday Jeopardy contestant. But Cindy wasn’t just playing a game. She was there to fulfill her dying wish.
The episodes were taped back at the end of August and early September. At the time, the 41-year-old science content developer from Austin, Texas, knew she was dying of stage 4 colon cancer. She had been given only months to live.
Having already passed Jeopardy’s online test that would advance her to the casting department’s in-person interviews, Cindy decided to reach out to the show’s producer directly.
In an email she wrote:
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 six 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 tryout spot to someone else.
She was booked on the show just three weeks later, but would never live to see herself compete when the shows aired. Cindy lost her battle with colon cancer on December 5, 2016.
Cindy was a fierce competitor, beating the reigning victor on her first episode, and advancing for five more so far. As of Monday, when she won again, Cindy’s total prize money was $80,002. She did it all on painkillers, with stage IV cancer, fighting a blood infection and with a high fever. Only the show’s host, Alex Trebek, and a handful of other producers knew about her illness.
Before she passed, Cindy donated all of her winnings to the Cancer Research Institute.
“She knew she wasn’t going to be around, and so she felt like the best thing she could do was try to help do what she could to help get us to a cure faster,” said Cindy’s boyfriend.
In a statement, her loved ones added: “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.”