Whitby Jeopardy queen’s path to tournament of champions glory begins Feb. 29

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Published February 20, 2024 at 3:06 pm

Juveria Zaheer of Whitby

The date is set for the final day of February as Whitby’s Jeopardy queen Juveria Zaheer draws a part-time drag queen from Maryland and a Virginia lawyer with five wins and $140,700 in his pocket in the first round of the Tournament of Champions, a 27-contestant competition that will declare a winner sometime next month.

Zaheer, a psychiatrist and researcher with CAMH and the University of Toronto and mother of two daughters, lost her first time around in May to eight-time winner Hannah Wilson (who is also competing in the tournament) but came back with a record-breaking haul in a Second Chance tournament – she earned $52,100 in just one match, the first Canadian to do so – and won the Wildcard tournament Feb. 2 to book her ticket to the championship.

Called a “comeback contest sensation” by Jeopardy executives and a “stone cold trivia assassin” by her fans on Reddit, Zaheer is now considered one of the favourites for the tournament, along with top seed Troy Meyer, a music executive and online trivia whiz with six wins, $214,802; second seed Ray Lalonde, a Toronto television set designer with 13 wins and $386,200; former pro poker player Chris Pannullo (21 wins, nearly $750,000) and Ben Chan, a philosophy professor with nine wins – all in runaways – and $252,200.

“I’m very compelled to root for Juveria in the Tournament of Champions; she has some serious momentum heading into it,” said one fan on a Reddit thread, while another wrote that her fellow participants are “officially on notice: Juveria is coming for you.”

Another wrote that she was looking forward to the Feb. 29 matchup: “Luigi vs. Juveria is gonna be a banger,” while one fan cast her vote for Canadians Zaheer and Lalonde to both make it to the grand final: “Hoping for a Juveria-Pannullo-Lalonde final.”

First things first for Zaheer, however, and begins Feb. 29 when she faces five-time winner Luigi de Guzman from Arlington, Virginia and three-time winner Kevin Belle of Silver Springs, Maryland.

While Zaheer is looking forward to competing in the tournament of Champions and meeting fellow Canadian champions like Lalonde – who faces Melissa Klapper and Ike Barenholtz, the Celebrity Jeopardy winner, March 4 – she said one of the best parts of her experience so far has been the reaction she has gotten from her loved ones about her success on the show.

“As a woman, especially a woman of color, as a mom, as someone who is maybe not a typical Jeopardy champion, I had so many people say to me ‘My daughters watched you, and my sons watched you,” she said. “I’m so surprised every time… but it’s a pretty good feeling.”

The CAMH Medical Head, university Associate Professor and suicide prevention researcher has done a lot of charming her fans, friends and colleagues along the way – as well as winning.

She has also earned praise from all corners, including a message from Whitby Mayor Elizabeth Roy after her Wildcard win and a shout-out in the hallowed halls of Parliament from Whitby MP Ryan Turnbull.

Through all her success and the attention she has received, both locally and across the show’s international platform, Zaheer has remained humble and is still surprised she is in the position she is in.

“It still doesn’t feel real,” said Zaheera, who has some family celebrity competition from brother Omar Zaheer, who was a ‘Survivor’ standout, finishing in the top six in Season 42. “I’m still waiting to wake up from this dream.”

Juveria Zaheer with Jeopardy! host and trivia legend Ken Jennings

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