On Friday, Nova Scotia’s Jeopardy! phenom Mattea Roach took their final bow on the Alex Trebek Stage after losing their semi-final game in the Tournament of Champions. Barring a special reunion episode, Roach’s time on the iconic trivia show has come to an end. But you don’t become the fifth-best J! player of all time and achieve household-name status in the span of eight months without having your life changed forever.
That was a realization Roach had when their initial winning streak, which reached 23 games, began ticking into the double digits. “Going on the show, you sort of expect, OK, well, this is going to be my 15 minutes of fame, and I'm going to do the one episode and I'll have like a fun watch party and then I'll be done,” Roach says in a video chat with The Coast. “And so realizing, as I continued taping more and more episodes, that it was going to be a bigger deal and this was going to be like a huge part of my life, and probably something that I'll be associated with for the rest of my life to some extent, that was strange because it's not really what I signed up for.”
Going from obscurity to minor celebrity was tough to navigate at first, especially in their hometown of Halifax where Matteamania is undoubtedly the strongest. Roach, who currently lives in Toronto, visited family here in July, and says getting frequently recognized downtown was intense: “It's overwhelming when you're just trying to have a casual day out with family.”
But Roach is quick to tell us that being famous has been an overwhelmingly positive experience. “I have been so moved by how excited people are,” Roach says, adding they saw multiple people dressed up as them for Halloween. “I’m glad that people, you know, felt that my run meant something to them. And it’s funny, like I feel as though I have stans now, which is hilarious and not something I thought I’d ever say.”
In all, Jeopardy! is “a very weird way to become, like, D-list famous,” Roach says. They’re grateful that niche trivia fame isn’t the sort where you can’t go to the grocery store without being asked for a selfie, and the people who do know who you are are happy to see you. “The reception has been positive. Like, I'm not having people, you know, heckle me when I go into a restaurant like I'm a politician or something like that.”
Another neat thing about Jeopardy! fame is what you’re celebrated for. “I definitely remember being in junior high and sort of learning that it was not the cool thing to do to always be the person in class who knew all the answers,” Roach says. Being happy to be celebrated for being a nerd is something Jeopardy! contestants tend to have in common. “They're like, ‘Oh, this is so nice that we're being celebrated for just knowing all these bits of obscure trivia that like in normal life, we have probably no use for but we just think it's neat.’”
The most obvious way the superchampion’s life has changed in the past year is naturally the $560,983 USD in prize money added to their bank account. Before Jeopardy!, Roach was jumping between short-term contract gigs, much like any other 20-something fresh out of undergrad. “It's just a lie to say that this is not the biggest thing: The sense of financial security and like not being in a state of anxiety about looking for work,” they say. “My baseline anxiety level about money has really abated, so like, that is a huge change.”
Having a recognizable name has also opened up a world of new opportunities for the former Haligonian, including a budding media career. They’re now the host of The Backbench, a Canadian politics show from Canadaland; have written a guest essay for the Toronto Star; and are working on a book proposal.
“Not everybody gets to have just these opportunities kind of fall into their lap in the way that I'm having as a result of being on Jeopardy!, and I kind of figured I should probably, you know, really take advantage of this,” Roach says. “Because I feel as though a lot of the things that I am, you know, now finding myself able to do are things that I would have wanted to do anyway, but before Jeopardy!, it would have been like a, you know, 10-, 15-year project maybe to get to a point in my career.”
As for the future, “I’m not married to the idea of doing one thing,” Roach says. They still might go to law school—they were accepted to a couple of schools but decided to defer—and would like to continue writing and podcasting for the long haul, but for now Roach is going with the flow. “I think so far, there's a little bit of a novelty factor still with me writing or saying anything, and so you know, I hope that as I kind of, you know, continue putting my feet in the water of being like a kind of small-time public figure, somebody who works, you know, adjacent to media, I hope that, like the quality of whatever I produce will kind of start to speak for itself. And people will want to hear more of what I have to say, not just because they recognize my name from Jeopardy!, but because they perhaps recognize the value of the work that I do.”
Despite all this, Roach’s day-to-day life hasn’t changed significantly since becoming a Jeopardy! legend. They still tutor the LSAT and live in the same Toronto apartment. “A lot of things in my life have not changed, like my relationships with friends and family have remained largely the same as they always have been, and so that's been like a real sort of rock for me this year,” Roach says. That consistency made it easier to adjust to the limelight.
In addition, Roach is at peace with the fleeting nature of minor celebrity. “It made it easy, you know, at the peak of things, knowing that it wasn't going to be forever, right?” Roach says, referring to the media frenzy when they first climbing the J! rankings. “The, you know, sort of intensity of that first run on the show has abated somewhat, and so that's made it, I think, easy to adjust. I think it would be really hard to deal with that level of sustained attention, but I think that I've settled into kind of a good place now.”
“I want to settle into sort of my low-key-but-still-moderately-recognizable kind of lifestyle that I guess I have now.”