POLO – “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?”
And with that answer, Polo native Joanna Kimmitt unseated a three-time winner and fulfilled her lifetime dream of becoming a returning “Jeopardy!” champion.
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 Wednesday afternoon. She’ll be back for today’s episode, but how she did overall is a secret until after the show airs.
Kimmitt, a librarian at California State University in Dominguez Hills, 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 Wednesday.
“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.”
HOW SHE DID
Joanna Kimmitt's stats for Game 1:
• 19 correct
• 3 incorrect
• 0/0 on Daily Doubles
• 1/1 in Final Jeopardy
• 36.84% in first on buzzer (21/57)
Kimmitt will appear again today on "Jeopardy!", which airs at 3:30 p.m. on WREX NBC Rockford and at 4:30 p.m. on KWQC NBC Davenport, Iowa.