INTERVIEW: Atlanta ‘Jeopardy’ slayer Danielle Maurer thrilled to beat 23-game winner



She beat Mattea Roach with an Atlanta airport Final Jeopardy clue.

Peachtree Corners digital marketer Danielle Maurer didn’t realize how difficult the Final Jeopardy clue was during last Friday’s episode because, of course, she knew it immediately.

The topic was vague: “USA.” The clue was: “These 2 mayors gave their names to a facility built on the site of an old racetrack owned by Coca-Cola magnate Asa Candler.”

Maurer, who has flown in and out of the airport many times, correctly wrote: “Who are Hartsfield & Jackson?”

Mattea Roach, who is Canadian and taking a cue from the “racetrack” reference in the clue, incorrectly wrote: “Who is Churchill & Downs?”

Maurer, winning $15,600 to $15,599, became a “Jeopardy” super champ slayer. Up to that point, Roach had won 23 games in a row, the fifth longest streak in the history of “Jeopardy.”

“I thought Mattea had it in the bag,” Maurer said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Tuesday. “My reaction when I found out I won is now a meme in some circles of the Internet. I was shocked. My brain went completely blank. You can hear me laughing on the edge of hysteria.”

Host Ken Jennings noted that this was just fortuitous timing for Maurer, who has lived in metro Atlanta for a decade. “Obviously, for a Georgia native [sic], maybe that’s not so hard. But remember, these questions are written months in advance and assigned randomly to games before we even know who the contestants are.”

Roach, on paper, played a better game entering Final Jeopardy. She answered 28 of the 60 available questions correctly. Maurer answered just 11 and got three wrong.

But the “Jeopardy” gods smiled upon Maurer this particular game.

While there were no particular categories that were slam dunks for Maurer, she did like the “International Computer Glossary” category in the first round and landed a $2,800 Daily Double near the end that kept her in the running. After the first 30 questions, she only trailed Roach by $2,200 despite answering just four questions correctly.

Maurer said she was mildly intimidated at first by Roach and had trouble timing her buzzer. If players buzz in too early before Jennings finishes the clue, they get locked out. She said that happened several times for her, especially in the first round. Roach, having played the game 24 times at that point, had a distinct advantage with the buzzer.

In the Double Jeopardy round, with just 11 questions left and time ticking away, Maurer had been falling further and further behind. But Maurer loves wordplay and picked the $2,000 clue where all the answers had the letter “n” four times. She hit the third and final Daily Double. She went big with $5,000. The clue: “The event where Mary found out the Holy Spirit was going to help her conceive.” Her answer: “What is annunciation?” That got her to $12,200.

The final 10 questions featured four “triple stumpers” where nobody got the clue and Roach was unable to tangibly build on her lead. (It helped Maurer that third-place finisher Betsy Hobbs nabbed two $2,000 questions near the end.)

So before Final Jeopardy, Maurer had $11,400 and Roach $19,200. If Roach had finished the round with more than twice as much money as the second-place finisher at that stage, the Final Jeopardy clue would have been rendered meaningless.

But Maurer was within shooting distance of a win and bet the proper amount ($4,400) in case Roach got the clue wrong and she got it right. And that is exactly what happened.

Maurer said she was glad this was the final game that was taped that week on Feb. 15. She didn’t have to defend her “Jeopardy” crown for two more weeks.

“After I beat Mattea, I was a complete disaster,” Maurer said.

On Monday’s episode, Maurer pocketed $12,399 without too much strain, answering 18 clues correctly and making no mistakes until missing Final Jeopardy. Fortunately for her, nobody else knew the clue either.

Maurer, 31, has been trying out for “Jeopardy” since she was a teen and had been in the “Jeopardy” pool of contestants multiple times. But only now did she get the call.

She and her husband James Spencer did a lot of prep work. They used a white board and every day played multiple games using J-Archive, which provides detailed info on previous “Jeopardy” games. A friend mock hosted and Maurer competed with her husband to gain a sense of the rhythm of the game.

In recent years, players have become more apt to jump around the board and “hunt” Daily Doubles rather than the traditional method of starting at the top and going down specific categories. She said she practiced and was able to “hunt” reasonably well, a skill that came into play last Friday.

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