How Brooke MacKenzie became a Jeopardy! champion // Secret Life

Brooke MacKenzie holding gameshow buzzer
To start, she tapped into her talent as a litigator

By Matthew Hague

On Tuesday December 1st, 2020

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On television, it took Brooke MacKenzie 30 minutes to become a gameshow champion. During an episode of Jeopardy!, which aired in February, she maintained her composure and kept pace with the competition. In Final Jeopardy, she clinched her victory by correctly identifying Argentina as the Western-hemisphere country that references “branding cattle and lassoing steers” in its national poem. Alex Trebek, who passed away in November, sauntered over to shake her hand. And just like that, it was over.

Portrait of Brooke MacKenzie holding a gameshow buzzer

Brooke MacKenzie
MacKenzie Barristers

In reality, though, that triumph was a lifetime in the making. A long-standing trivia enthusiast, the litigator at MacKenzie Barristers has rarely missed an episode of Jeopardy!, playing alongside her roommates throughout undergrad and law school and, these days, at home with her husband.

Over the past decade, she has doggedly tried to appear on the hit show. The first step for any would-be contestant is to take an online trivia test. Those who score high enough qualify for a lottery, which determines the lucky few who move on to the next phase: an additional test and a simulated game in front of producers. MacKenzie has won an invitation to two in-person auditions. After the second, she made the cut.

Once she learned the date of her appearance, MacKenzie had a month until the taping in Los Angeles. So she bought a plane ticket — yes, this was in the pre-COVID era — and started to prepare. Her husband, a computer programmer, accessed a database of historical Jeopardy! questions and built a rudimentary program that MacKenzie could use to study. She focused on her weakest subjects (such as science) and worried less about her strengths (which include sports, geography and pop culture). To practise the art of the buzzer, she held and pressed a spring-loaded toilet-paper holder. “Being a litigator is also great training,” she says. “You have to think fast on your feet.”

In total, she appeared on two episodes, winning the first and finishing runner-up in the second. Her combined pre-tax winnings reached US$19,300. MacKenzie plans to save some of the cash and — once it’s safe to travel — use the rest to cover the cost of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, capping off one lifelong ambition by fulfilling another.


This is a story from our Winter 2020 Issue.


Photography by Daniel Ehrenworth; hair and makeup by Michelle Calleja.