Most Mysterious Jeopardy! Champ Speaks 40 Years Later

Barbara Lowe won in the 1980s, then disappeared from show history
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted May 14, 2023 7:55 AM CDT
The Jeopardy! Champion the Show Doesn't Talk About
A screen shot of Barbara Lowe from the 1980s, speaking about going on 'Jeopardy!'   (YouTube)

Mention the name Barbara Lowe to a Jeopardy! superfan—and there are legions of them—and you might get an earful. As Claire McNear's deep dive in the Ringer explains, Lowe is the game show's "most enigmatic" champion. She won five games in 1986, which at the time was the maximum allowed, good for about $35,000. That should have automatically qualified her for that season's Tournament of Champions, but she wasn't invited. In fact, the show took her episodes out of circulation. She all but disappeared from the Jeopardy! history, vexing the aforementioned superfans who track every detail at J! Archive database. Last year came a huge break: a fan found old VHS tapes of Lowe's appearances, which have since been digitized. And McNear speaks to Lowe herself, who had been unaware of her role in show lore until recently, when a fan tracked her down.

“He said that my episode is regarded as the holy grail of episodes,” says Lowe. “I was absolutely hysterical about it. I thought, ‘That’s insane.’” So what happened? A lot, and the story unpacks it. The late Alex Trebek and show execs clearly did not like Lowe, suggesting she was a game-show regular who deceived them and appeared under a fake name. Then there was her emergency bathroom trip in the midst of one show, which did not sit well with Trebek (and conspiracy theorists). Lowe gives her side of all this—Lowe is her professional name, and she says she had appeared on a few other shows, at least once using her maiden name, but she says all that was disclosed. She chalks up her stomach trouble to antibiotics. There was also a mid-show disagreement with Trebek in which she successfully challenged a wrong answer by defending her pronunciation. Read the full story, which notes that Lowe also won $32,000 in 2003 on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, during which she also had stomach trouble mid-show. (More Longform stories.)

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