Mattea Roach is on the longest ‘Jeopardy!’ winning streak for a Canadian. Here’s how it’s giving her and her family a new way to think about joy

The biggest crowds come on Mondays, because the whole weekend is used as an opportunity to invite family and friends to Mattea Roach’s parents’ house to watch the Nova Scotian play — and so far, win — the classic trivia game show “Jeopardy!”

Patti MacKinnon, Roach’s mom, said she and her husband have been keeping their doors open throughout their daughter’s 13-game-and-counting run, a kind of weekday Halifax open house that is two parts celebration and one part stressed-out anticipation.

“It’s a little bit like a party atmosphere but it’s very serious about ‘Jeopardy!,’ nobody talks when the game is on,” MacKinnon said. “I think what people love is that she’s having so much fun and that is just Mattea, that’s the way she is, that’s the way she’s been since ever.”

Roach, the 23-year-old who now lives in Toronto, has as of Thursday won 13 games and collected a purse of $286,081 (U.S.). It’s the longest winning streak of any contestant listed as a Canadian on the “Jeopardy!” website.

Her run has already earned her a place in the show’s annual tournament of champions, but before that, she’ll appear again Friday for her 14th game.

It’s clear she has a top-notch memory and undeniable penchant for fast-paced trivia, but there’s something more to the Canadian’s outstanding run than getting in record books and winning cash: Viewers have noticed that, despite the pressure, Roach is having fun — and that surprises the contestant.

“My own perception of myself outside of my appearances on the show has really not historically been one of like, wow, I’m somebody who brings joy to others. I don’t think that most people see themselves in that light,” Roach told the Star. “So this whole experience I think, has really caused me to reconceptualize my relationship to joy.”

“It’s actually something that was quite accessible to me all along, perhaps, even though it took this really incredible experience of going on a game show and doing this once-in-a-lifetime thing to unearth that.”

That’s music to her mother’s ears.

“This is life-changing in many ways. She was already doing well, she’s been in a good place,” MacKinnon said. “(On the show) she is obviously having so much fun and as a parent that is worth more than all the money ever.”

MacKinnon said that beyond the nightly ritual of gathering together to watch Roach at their home in Halifax, the “Jeopardy!” run is bringing together their family in myriad unanticipated ways. Family members who haven’t talked in years are suddenly messaging each other excitedly; those who struggled over the course of the pandemic are joining in on the party atmosphere.

Even people who have never met Roach before are eager to tell MacKinnon how much joy they’ve reaped from watching her excel with such obvious zest. “I think that the impact — it feels silly to say this but it is having an incredible impact. People are gravitating toward her in particular like I could never ever ever have imagined,” MacKinnon said.

People across the country are quick to claim Roach’s success as a Canadian story, but her wins are probably most keenly felt in the Maritime communities where she grew up — including Halifax and Cape Breton.

Jason Church, Roach’s cousin, was born and raised in Marion Bridge on Cape Breton Island. His family runs a store where they put up an exterior sign cheering her on from the very beginning of Roach’s run.

Church said his cousin’s run on the show has given everyone in the town something to look forward to on weeknights. Even the local sports bar has taken to broadcasting “Jeopardy!” games by popular demand.

“It’s very exciting to watch,” he said. “Her mannerisms and her attitude — it’s so down to earth and that’s just who she is.”

Church predicted the Roach hype will continue to spread across the country for as long as her run lasts.

“I don’t think it’s just Cape Breton anymore, just the Maritimes any more. I think it’s across Canada now,” he said. “Everything in the news is so goddamn sad, it’s been nice to have something to smile about.”

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