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N.S. Jeopardy! champ Mattea Roach had hunger for knowledge even as a toddler, say parents

As Nova Scotia Jeopardy! champ Mattea Roach’s winning streak continues, her parents in Halifax are beaming with pride.

So far, 23-year-old Roach has won 19 games and is already the most successful Canadian to compete on the show. As of Friday, her winnings topped $460,184 US.

“To not be in the negative — that was a mini goal,” Roach’s mother, Patti MacKinnon, joked during an interview at home Friday before the latest Jeopardy! episode aired.

Roach’s father, Phil Roach, added that his daughter’s performance on the popular quiz show has been “an amazing run beyond our wildest dreams.”

Mattea Roach is the oldest of four children. Her parents said when she was about 18 months old, Roach was able to recognize letters and understand basic math like adding and subtracting.

Mattea Roach’s parents, Patti MacKinnon, left, and Phil Roach. (CBC)

“She was probably beginning to read when she was about three and always showing an interest in … just learning for the enjoyment of learning, wanting to know stuff and being fascinated by talking to people or listening to people and learning,” her father said.

MacKinnon, a federal government employee, said her daughter always loved books and that love intensified as she got older.

“If you introduced a new book, it was just like, ‘How quickly can I suck this up?'” she said. “At the age of three or four, I mean, it was pretty heavy duty knowledge.”

Roach’s parents have Jeopardy! merchandise on display in their home. (CBC)

Roach’s parents enrolled her in private school a year before she would have been able to start at a public school. She was involved with dance, soccer, band, choir and musicals. She travelled and took part in her school’s debate team where she thrived. 

She also skipped two grades, her parents said.

“What you see on TV is the real Mattea. She’s charming, humble and a real down to earth, warm person. She’s not like, you know, some brainiac or a genius that’s just a fountain of knowledge,” said her father, who works in HR.

During Friday’s show, Roach recalled playing a 1986 version of the Canadian board game Trivial Pursuit as a child with her father. She said that helped her retain some obscure facts — an ability neither of her parents said they possess.

“It’s unique to her for sure,” said MacKinnon.

Roach told her parents to keep her Jeopardy! plans quiet because she wasn’t sure if competing on the show would actually happen. She had taken a test on the Jeopardy! website that’s used to find potential contestants, and was surprised when someone from the show got in touch, said MacKinnon.

Roach’s parents say her intelligence was apparent from a young age. (CBC)

“We were pretty excited just for her to go, just to have the experience,” she said.

While Roach’s parents know the outcome of her run, they don’t know specifics like what questions she answered or how much she’s won. They have watch parties in their living room, where six to 20 people gather to cheer Roach on. Friends say they don’t want the outcome spoiled.

“We are all just living it as this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, none of us ever would have anticipated this was going to happen and it’s just amazing,” said MacKinnon.

MacKinnon says the ‘mini goal’ for Roach was to not wind up in the red. As of Friday, Roach had won more than $460,000 US. (CBC)

Roach has talked about paying off student loans with her winnings. MacKinnon said her daughter is frugal, so she wasn’t too surprised by that plan. She expects Roach will invest the money, some of it possibly in real estate, go back to school and travel.

And while there’s been good-natured competition between Halifax and Toronto — where Roach now lives — to stake claim to the trivia whiz, MacKinnon said “Nova Scotia is home.”

Roach says his daughter has always been gracious, whether she wins or loses. (CBC)

Phil Roach said what he finds most impressive about his daughter is how gracious she is, whether she wins or loses.

“I think that’s a great inspiration for other kids,” he said. “More recently, she’s been recognized as being part of the LGBTQ community. So that’s giving visibility, perhaps inspiring kids to be who they are. Just do their best and good things will happen.”

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