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Polo native becomes winner on “Jeopardy!”

Though she didn’t get to meet "Jeopardy" host Alex Trebek until the cameras started rolling, Polo native Joanna Kimmitt was able to pose for a picture with Trebek, who’s hosted the show since it began airing in syndication in 1984.
Though she didn’t get to meet "Jeopardy" host Alex Trebek until the cameras started rolling, Polo native Joanna Kimmitt was able to pose for a picture with Trebek, who’s hosted the show since it began airing in syndication in 1984.

A Polo native fulfilled a life-long dream last week when she appeared on “Jeopardy!” and became a returning champion.

Joanna Kimmitt unseated a three-time winner Oct. 18 and returned the following day, only to be tripped up by the final “Jeopardy!” question.

Kimmitt, 38, daughter of Daniel and Muriel Messer and now of Long Beach, California, won $9,999 during season 34’s 28th episode, which was taped in August and aired last Wednesday.

“A 1796 medical experiment with an English farm girl ultimately led to this breakthrough announced in Geneva May 8, 1980.”

“What is the eradication of smallpox?”

With that answer, Kimmitt earned her spot as a returning champion.

Now a librarian at California State University in Dominguez Hills, she attended Polo High School until her sophomore year, when she transferred to the Illinois Math and Science Academy in Aurora.

“I had been a fan of ‘Jeopardy!’ since I was a little girl,” she said in a phone interview Oct. 18.

“It was on at 4:30 p.m. in the Sauk Valley area, so we would go home after school, do a chore and then watch the show. I grew up playing it with my brother and sister.”

Kimmitt took the online test a year ago – along with 20,000 to 30,000 other people – was invited to audition in January, then auditioned in San Diego in February. Only 1,600 people are invited to audition nationwide.

“It all aligned for me,” she said.

Kimmitt did several things to prepare for the show. “I watched a lot of episodes that aired last year and practiced buzzing in with a dry erase marker because it is the same size and shape as the buzzer and has the same sort of feeling.”

“I also brushed up on certain topics like biblical trivia, Shakespeare trivia, political figures and presidents,” she said.

Being on the show was a lot of fun, but also exhausting, she said. “They film all five shows in one day and it starts at 7:30 a.m.”

There’s a dress rehearsal where contestants play a mock game on the real stage before filming. “This way you get a chance to feel the actual buzzer.”

She didn’t get to see host Alex Trebek until they were playing the game on camera.

Her family, including her husband, Michael Kimmitt, came to watch her play,

“When I won, my husband jumped up in the audience, but then remembered he couldn’t make any noise, so you just see his hands in the air.”

“Being on the show is a blast, you get to have a good time and show what you know,” she said.

“The other contestants are lovely people, and it is a celebration that you made it this far. It’s really as fun as it looks, and it’s a nice community to be a part of.”

In what was a bit of an ironic ending, a Lincoln question felled the Illinois native in her second game last Thursday.

She missed the final “Jeopardy!” question: “Who is the only actor to win three best actor Oscars, his most recent portrayal being a U.S. president?

Her answer: Kevin Spacey.

The correct answer: Daniel Day Lewis, who won the golden statue in 2013 for “Lincoln.”

Her $7,500 wager dropped her score to $300.

Kimmit took the loss in stride.

“All of the people on ‘Jeopardy!’ could all win at any point. It is the luck of the draw,” she said.

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