Prime time for a Kleenex

Spoiler alert: if you haven’t watched the first thirteen episodes of “Jeopardy!” that Netflix has available to stream and you don’t want anything given away, read no further than this paragraph! (I highly recommend watching these if you like “Jeopardy!” because I found them especially exciting. Bonus: no commercials!)

There is a new hero in my world. Her name is Scarlett Sims.

Recently I had a kidney infection that was so little fun that I couldn’t bring myself to do much other than stand uncomfortably in the kitchen for basically a whole day. To distract myself from pain and the chagrin at having to squander a square of the calendar to this affliction, I turned on the season of “Jeopardy!” I’d been watching recently while folding laundry or going through boxes or sewing/gluing things, hoping that Netflix would help me chill. I was several episodes in, and Austin Rogers, a NYC bartender, was on a winning streak. It’s hard not to like this guy–he’s funny, unassuming, humble, and charismatic with a wild head of hair and a thrift store-exclusive wardrobe. He’s also incredibly intelligent, at least as it pertains to “knowing stuff”. I’d been rooting for him all along, up to the point that he’d won a dozen consecutive contests and $411,000, until the thirteenth episode opened with one of the contenders beaming as Johnny Gilbert introduced her as a stay-at-home mom. This was the first stay-at-home mom I’d seen on the show! To her and the medical student to her left, after glowingly touting Austin as belonging to an elite set of contestants who have attained such a high level of success, Alex Trebek intoned, “Good luck. You’re going to need it.”

Well, as much as I adore that silver fox of an icon whose death saddened me even more than Tony Bourdain’s or Robin Williams’s, I thought that was a bit of an insolent comment. It would take a lot more than luck to best the formidable Austin Rogers, and finally I knew whom I wanted to earn that honor. I mean, just look at her proud, confident smile during her introduction:

Throughout the episode, Scarlett’s self-assured, unintimidated posture of poise sparkled like her lipgloss. She immediately took control of the board, correctly answering the first three clues (the words “the best laid plans of mice and men” rolled off her tongue as if she spoke them every day). She went on to correctly identify “Phyllis Dorothy” as the first two names of P. D. James after sweet Austin buzzed in and answered “Oops”; then she took the money for a question about “Monster High” dolls after he fumbled it. After the first round, she had a commanding lead over the men on either side of her, and then she famously (at least in my mind) swept the entire category on Dolly Parton during Double Jeopardy. (Sure, Scarlett is from Tennessee, but that doesn’t automatically make her an authority on Dollywood.) Her response to one question was incorrect, and Austin did well throughout, making it a competitive round, but when she answered the last clue on the board with the word “contraindicated”, she’d stolen my heart. Still, it was anyone’s game going into Final Jeopardy: as Alex said, “Well! We have a game here!”

Both Austin and Scarlett answered the Final Jeopardy clue correctly, and even if Austin had risked his entire winnings thus far that day, she still would have beaten him by a dollar (as it was, she won by $51), making this such an exhilarating finish that I was actually feeling emotional. But I didn’t weep until Austin reacted to Scarlett’s win with the most ebullient delight; the man was positively hopping with happiness for the woman to his left who had just beaten him, narrowly and fairly, in a match of the minds. You could hear his clapping above the applause from the studio audience, and when she looked over and saw his excitement, her smile went from wide to triumphant. As they high-fived over the barrier between their stations, I sobbed (this did NOT help my back pain). That moment they shared–it was as if everyone else in the world disappeared, and just the two of them were alone on the world’s stage, opponents united in a moment of sheer joy–was as close to perfect as anything I’ve ever seen on reality TV (this is BIG, people. I’ve watched every episode of “The Great British Bake-Off”).

Alex then called this badass stay-at-home-mom a “giant-killer”, which I feel redeems him from his earlier comment about luck as a necessary element in defeating the reigning winner. And the answer to the final clue, the one that won her the victory? It was, fittingly, “It’s a Wonderful Life”. But my favorite line from the episode was what Alex said just before discovering that Scarlett’s carefully-calculated wager had tipped the scales in her favor, a line I might have to embroider on something: “She could be the new champion if she risked enough.” Amen, Alex. Amen.

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