Staffers sent advance copies of the first three episodes to Stowell while she was in the hospital and expedited her prize money, according to a release from the show. Stowell said she planned to donate her winnings to fund cancer research, a pledge which has inspired TV viewers around the country to contribute as well.
“It was kind of just a line in the sand that I drew,” she explained in a video posted by the show. “I wanted to donate a lot of the money to cancer research, partly because — this is hard and I’m sorry… I’m dying of cancer, and I really would like the money that I win to be used to help others, so this seems like a good opportunity.”
On Wednesday, fellow “Jeopardy!” contestant Sam Scovill won; he encouraged viewers to donate to cancer research.
Over the course of six episodes, Stowell triumphed, including coming back from deficits. “Even when you think the odds are completely against you, somehow, be it luck or something, things kind of work out,” she said.
Stowell first began watching “Jeopardy!” in the 1980s and, as a ninth grader, unsuccessfully tried out for the teen tournament. A trivia buff, she successfully passed the online test for the show in early 2016, and was invited to an in-person audition.
But Stowell was concerned about the timeline, writing to contestant producer Maggie Speak, “Do you have any idea how long it typically takes between an in person interview, and the taping date? I ask because I just found out that I don’t have too much longer to live.”
Stowell continued: “The doctor’s best guess is about 6 months. If there is the chance that I’d be able to still tape episodes of Jeopardy! if I were selected, I’d like to do that and donate any winnings to … charities involved in cancer research,” she wrote. “If it is unlikely that the turnaround time would be that quick, then I’d like to give up my try out spot to someone else.”
Producers told Stowell to come to the in-person audition, and if she passed, she would be booked as soon as the schedule would allow.
Stowell made it through, and arrived Aug. 31 to tape the first of four games that day, which began with her unseating seven-game champion Tim Aten. She returned Sept. 13 to win two more games.
She had a high-grade fever during the taping, according to her longtime boyfriend, Jason Hess. It turned out to be a blood infection.
Her opponents didn’t know she was sick, according to the show. In fact, just a few staffers and Trebek were aware of her condition.
After her death, Hess and her family released 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.”