A woman named Julia Collins just achieved the second-longest winning streak ever on Jeopardy! last week. She won 20 games (Ken Jennings remains in first with 74 wins). Jeremy and I (and sometimes the girls, too) have spent the last few days catching up on it all via this helpful YouTube playlist. And let me tell you, it was such a joy to watch this woman play.
Look, I know that it doesn't really matter that Julia is a woman. Gender aside, she is the second-winningest player ever to be on Jeopardy!, so she holds her own among the very best without any kind of "...for a woman" caveat.
But also look, since she IS a woman, let's talk about it. I loved seeing a woman play as brilliantly as she did, beating the crap out of her opponents with a ruthlessness that belied her conservative sweaters, sparkly necklaces, lovely smile (seriously! such a smile!), and weirdly mesmerizing way of stating her choice of clue. I love that her 20-game streak puts her way out of range of anyone who wants to diminish her victory by qualifying it with any conceivable attack on her gender.
I loved watching her episodes with my daughters so they could see that being super smart and competitive is not exclusively a man's game. I've watched Jeopardy! quite a few times over the years with Miriam, but this was the first time Miriam has ever come up with some of the answers to the clues all by herself, in real time (she got three clues right in a category about birds).
Unfortunately, as happy as Julia makes me, I think we still have a long way to go when it comes to smart women who aren't afraid to show how smart they are on TV. I was watching some of Arthur Chu's games a few weeks ago and came across some really awful comments on the YouTube videos (I KNOW, the first rule of the internet is to not read the comments, but Jeopardy! comments are usually super nerdy discussions of wagers and game theory and quibbles with the clues). These comments - from people who ostensibly looked up a Jeopardy! episode on YouTube and then watched it - were about the women contestants' breast size, or teeth, or hairstyle, or other horrible things that completely ignored the fact that the only relevant piece of information here is that the woman has a brain and is really good at using it. UGH.
I can't wait to see Julia play again on the next Tournament of Champions. I know I'm not the only one looking forward to seeing her take on Ken Jennings and other top players from the past.