Jeopardy! contestant’s boyfriend: she had one last thing to fight for

Cindy Stowell with Alex Trebek (Jeopardy! Photo)
Cindy Stowell with Alex Trebek (Jeopardy! Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A Jeopardy! contestant from Austin who will appear on the show this week has died from colon cancer. During her final months, she set one last goal: donate her prize money to cancer-related organizations.

Jason Hess, Cindy Stowell’s longtime boyfriend of more than 20 years, says she was not only his partner for life, but his partner at the trivia table.

“Whether it was geography or movies and music, she just kind of had one of these brains that sort of absorbed everything,” says Hess. “Even if it was just the two of us we could usually hold our own against much larger teams, in no small part thanks to her.”

In March of 2015, they learned some of life’s hardest questions don’t have an answer. “It was a hard day for sure,” remembers Hess. “We knew she was not feeling well and something was going on. You’re never ready for that kind of news.”

Cindy Stowell with Alex Trebek (Jeopardy! Photo)
Cindy Stowell with Alex Trebek (Jeopardy! Photo)

Hess says despite the colon cancer diagnosis, Stowell stayed positive, always trying to figure out a plan and the next best treatment, but ultimately it wasn’t enough. “She knew she wasn’t going to be around and so she felt like the best thing she could do was try to help do what she could to help get us to a cure faster,” said Hess.

When Oklahoma City auditions came around, Stowell was invited to play. It came right after she received news from doctors that they were running out of options.

Stowell reached out to Jeopardy! contestant producer Maggie Speak with this message:

Do you have any idea how long it typically takes between an in person interview, and the taping date? I ask because I just found out that I don’t have too much longer to live. The doctor’s best guess is about 6 months. If there is the chance that I’d be able to still tape episodes of Jeopardy! if I were selected, I’d like to do that and donate any winnings to … charities involved in cancer research. If it is unlikely that the turnaround time would be that quick, then I’d like to give up my try out spot to someone else.”

Speak told her to attend her audition in Oklahoma City, and that if she qualified to compete on the show, she would be booked for a taping as soon as the show’s schedule would allow – three weeks later on Aug. 31.

When Stowell arrived to compete, only a select group of Jeopardy! staffers and Alex Trebek knew she was ill. Her opponents were unaware of her condition, the show said. Her appearance will air as scheduled next Tuesday, Dec. 13.

Jason Hess and Cindy Stowell (Jason Hess Photo)
Jason Hess and Cindy Stowell (Jason Hess Photo)

“When Cindy Stowell taped her appearance on Jeopardy!, she had Stage 4 cancer,” Trebek said. “Competing on Jeopardy! was a lifelong dream for Cindy, and we’re glad she was able to do so. Sadly, Cindy died on Dec. 5. Our condolences and best wishes to her family and friends.”

Hess and her parents say she adamantly wanted the money to go to cancer research in the hopes that no one else would have to go through what she did.

“Something in her rallied to the cause, and she was strong enough for that day,” said Hess. “There’s no, no replacing somebody like that. Just have to move on and try to honor her memory.”

Stowell was a science content developer in Austin. She’s donating her winnings to the Cancer Research Institute.

Her appearance will air as scheduled on Dec. 13.