INTERVIEW: Heather McMahan shocked to win ‘Celebrity Jeopardy’ quarterfinals

She defeated Cynthia Nixon and Cedric the Entertainer.
CELEBRITY JEOPARDY! - “Quarterfinal #8: Cynthia Nixon, Cedric the Entertainer and Heather McMahan” - Actress Cynthia Nixon (“And Just Like That…”) and comedians Cedric the Entertainer (“The Neighborhood”) and Heather McMahan (“Son I Never Had”) step up to the podiums on an all-new episode. WEDNESDAY, NOV. 29 (8:00-9:00 p.m. EST), on ABC. (Disney/Eric McCandless)
CYNTHIA NIXON, CEDRIC THE ENTERTAINER, HEATHER MCMAHAN

Credit: Disney

Credit: Disney

CELEBRITY JEOPARDY! - “Quarterfinal #8: Cynthia Nixon, Cedric the Entertainer and Heather McMahan” - Actress Cynthia Nixon (“And Just Like That…”) and comedians Cedric the Entertainer (“The Neighborhood”) and Heather McMahan (“Son I Never Had”) step up to the podiums on an all-new episode. WEDNESDAY, NOV. 29 (8:00-9:00 p.m. EST), on ABC. (Disney/Eric McCandless) CYNTHIA NIXON, CEDRIC THE ENTERTAINER, HEATHER MCMAHAN

Heather McMahan, the Atlanta-based stand-up comic and actress, doesn’t come off as a know-it-all. But now she can say she won a game of “Jeopardy.”

Sure, it’s “Celebrity Jeopardy,” which is easier than regular “Jeopardy!,” as “Saturday Night Live” used to mock, But McMahan will take it.

“I never felt smarter in my life,” she said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution after defeating comic and “The Neighborhood” star Cedric the Entertainer and “Sex and the City” actress Cynthia Nixon. “I have proven to my family I’m not an idiot!”

Better yet, McMahan is guaranteed to win $50,000 for Atlanta charity City of Refuge, which provides resources and life building tools to individuals and families in Atlanta who are living on the margins. Her semifinal round is likely to air early next year. If she makes it to the finals and wins it all, City of Refuge takes home $1 million.

“It’s incredibly impactful,” said Edward Phillips, vice president of development for City of Refuge, which raised $13.7 million in 2021, according to its latest 990 disclosure form to the government. “We help families get off the street. We give them meals, counseling, child care and job training to get them back on their feet and get in a home.”

McMahan’s exuberant personality was on full display during the entire hour that aired Nov. 29 on ABC, often yelling out “Yes!” with a triumphant fist pump when she answered a question correctly.

She showed dexterity on a wide range of topics but did especially well on skin care. The Georgia native also got an R.E.M. question right and nabbed two Daily Doubles. But she actually entered Final Jeopardy $4,100 behind Nixon.

The final category was “Unique Buildings.” The answer: “Despite 17.5 miles of hallways, you can walk anywhere in this Virginia building within about five minutes due to its concentric layout.”

Both Cedric, who was well behind, and McMahan got the clue correct with “What is The Pentagon?” But Nixon blanked, allowing McMahan to win despite a very modest wager.

McMahan said she has been a fan of “Jeopardy” since she was a child. “As a comedian, I just love random facts,” she said. “This is where I thrive. I knew more than I thought. But it was a totally different experience being there than watching on TV. I sweat through my shirt!”

Given her relatively new status as a “celebrity,” she said she felt like she had arrived standing next two two veteran entertainers like Cedric and Nixon. “Cedric is the coolest,” she said. “He had this low-key calm energy. I was freaking out seeing Cynthia Nixon. I couldn’t believe I was there.”

Her humor was on full display early on with the $100 clue from the category “Rules of the Game”: “If you touch the metal edge of the cavity, you’ll set off the buzzer and make Sam’s nose light up.”

McMahan looked panicked and blurted out, “What is the doctor game?”

Nixon then buzzed in but before she had a chance to answer, McMahan, too late, said, “What is Operation?”

As the audience chuckled, Nixon sheepishly repeated it. Host Ken Jennings said she was right, with an assist from McMahan.

“You’re welcome,” McMahan joked.

Before the first commercial break in which McMahan was in third place, Cedric was still chuckling over her answer “the doctor game.”

“That will haunt me for the rest of my life,” McMahan cracked.

During the bio Q&A portion early in the show, with McMahan losing, Jennings noted that comics have done well on the show. Two of three finalists last year were comedians (Patton Oswalt and Ike Barinholtz).

“I got into comedy once I saw my SAT scores,” McMahan said. “I knew I wasn’t going to be in a very scholastic field. I have ADHD so this is good. I’m ping-ponging around a lot. I’m hoping I can bring up those numbers.”

McMahan has had quite a year, courtesy of her first Netflix special and recently taping a second one at the Fox Theatre. “It felt so good to have my hometown come out and support me,” she said. “We had two nights of packed houses.”

She said she is basically taking the rest of the month off before hitting the road and touring again next year.

“I will be sleeping and drinking wine by the fire and doing as little as humanly possible,” she said.

IF YOU WATCH

“Celebrity Jeopardy,” Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on ABC and on Hulu

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