'Jeopardy!' is the right answer for Coralville's winning contestant

UI study abroad adviser takes home $91,398 on popular game show

Diana Nollen
Published: January 22 2014 | 7:00 am - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 2:28 am in
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CULVER CITY, CALIF. – No question about it, Sarah McNitt of Coralville exceeded her wildest dreams on “Jeopardy!” before her reign of fire ended with a second-place finish Tuesday (1/21).

After five wins, the 33-year-old study abroad adviser in the University of Iowa International Programs amassed $89,398 on the Emmy-winning “answer and question” quiz show hosted by Alex Trebek. She missed Tuesday’s Final Jeopardy clue, guessing Russia instead of Norway as the country that has won the most winter Olympic medals. The runner-up slot added $2,000 to her earnings, for a grand total of $91,398.

“I definitely didn’t expect to do so well; I went out there planning to just have fun being on the show and wasn’t focused on how I was doing against my competitors,” she said. “All in all, the experience felt completely surreal. When I met my family outside the studio after the show, I just kept bursting out laughing. ‘Is this real life? Did that really just happen?’ ”

McNitt first tried out for the “Jeopardy!” College Championship in 1999 and took the adult online test every time she’s been eligible, all in pursuit of her lifelong goal of appearing on the show.

“I’ve had the idea in my head since I was a kid,” said McNitt, an Ann Arbor native who earned a B.A. in French at Albion College in Albion, Mich., and a master’s degree in Information (Human-Computer Interaction) from the University of Michigan. “When I was applying to colleges, one of the essays I wrote talked about how I wanted to get a liberal arts education because it would prepare me to be a contestant on ‘Jeopardy!’ ”

In addition to paying off debt and taking a postponed honeymoon to Ireland, McNitt plans to use some of her winnings to support philanthropic organizations whose work has had a personal impact on her life: the Red Cross, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) and Be the Match, a bone marrow registry.

“My mother passed away two weeks before my ‘Jeopardy!’ tape date after a nine-month battle with leukemia, so my family has spent a significant amount of time and energy since then reflecting on the organizations that helped her and were important to her,” McNitt said.

“I plan to use some of my winnings to organize and fund a blood drive and a bone marrow registry drive in Iowa City in the fall, and my family will organize a fundraising group in memory of my mother for the LLS’s Light the Night Walk. She was a regular viewer of the show, and I know she would have liked to see me play.”

McNitt played very well. Her episodes began airing Jan. 14. She led all through that game, and even though all three contestants came up with the correct Final Jeopardy answer, she wagered enough to end with $15,800. The next day, all three contestants missed the final answer, but McNitt wagered conservatively and ended with $12,600.

On Day 3, being well-versed in Shakespeare gave her a $17,600 payday. The theater paid off again Day 4, as she correctly answered “Death of a Salesman” to edge out her closest opponent by less than $2,000, ending with $23,199. On Monday, no one knew the answer of Camp David, but again, McNitt wagered conservatively and ended up with $20,199.

“I went on the show just hoping to have fun and not embarrass myself. To have five wins – it’s amazing,” McNitt said after the final episode aired Tuesday.

She might get the chance to compete again. Five wins means she’s eligible for the Tournament of Champions, although no date has been set.

“Jeopardy!” airs at 4 p.m. on KWWL in Eastern Iowa. For more information on McNitt’s previous episodes, go to Thegazette.com/notes/

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