Courage comes in many forms, and there is little doubt that soldiers or first responders are courageous. But for more than a week, many Americans were fixated by the courage of a 41-year-old science-content developer from Austin, Texas, who became a six-time champ on “Jeopardy!” while in the final stages of her battle with colon cancer.
After passing an online test earlier this year, Cindy Stowell shocked the show’s producers by asking if they could speed up the audition process. “Do you have any idea how long it typically takes between an in-person interview and the taping date?” she asked producer Maggie Speak. “I ask because I just found out that I don’t have too much longer to live. The doctor’s best guess is about 6 months.”
The show agreed to speed up the process, and she taped her episodes at the end of August and beginning of September. Before she lost on the prerecorded Dec. 21 episode, Ms. Stowell had won more than $100,000, which she pledged to donate to the Cancer Research Institute. She died on Dec. 5.
Appearing on television is unnerving enough for most people, but Ms. Stowell was battling a high fever and stomach pain that forced her to use painkillers. Her longtime boyfriend, Jason Hess, told The New York Times that the drugs slowed her reaction time, which is usually a key component of success on the quiz show.
Host Alex Trebek was one of the few people who knew about Ms. Stowell’s illness during the shows’ taping. Her competitors could tell she wasn’t feeling well, but they just believed she had the flu, as show assistants would swoop in during breaks to wipe the sweat from her face or help her to a chair.
Later, when she was in the hospital, “Jeopardy!” sent her advance copies of the episodes so she could watch her performance. After the Dec. 21 episode, Mr. Trebek made a stirring tribute to Ms. Stowell, telling viewers that she had died days before her episodes hit the air, but that her appearance “was the fulfillment of a lifelong ambition.”
Mr. Hess said in a statement, “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.”