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Jeopardy's First Ever Champion Reveals Fun Way She Spent Prize Money All Those Years Ago

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(Image credit: CBS)

Mary Cabell Eubanks might not be the first name you think of when you think about famous Jeopardy! celebrities. Current semi-permanent co-host Ken Jennings likely comes to mind, as well as the record-setting champions James Holzhauer and Amy Schneider, who made history a few times over during her 40-game win streak. But Eubanks likely paved the way for all of the above, as she holds the title of the first official Jeopardy! champion. Back on March 30, 1964, Eubanks took home a whopping $345 in winnings, and she recently shared the fun way she spent her hard-earned cash.

A prize of $345 may seem like an extravagantly modest sum by today’s standards — James Holzhauer holds the record for highest single-day winnings with $131,127 — but back in 1964, you could get a lot further with that amount of money, and it sounds like Mary Cabell Eubanks certainly did that. In an interview with Jeopardy! to commemorate the show's 58th anniversary, Eubanks revealed that she had just moved to New York City with her husband at the time she appeared on the show, and she spent her money in a very New York City way:

I went to every show that was in town. I loved drama and shows and plays and everything. So I spent my money going to those. They were a lot cheaper at that point in time, obviously.

Back in those early NYC days, while her husband worked, Mary Cabell Eubanks said she and a friend enjoyed attending various television programs as audience members. On one fateful day, she was approached by a man ahead of a taping of The Price Is Right, and he told her they were auditioning for a new show called Jeopardy! The rest was game show history, and for a woman who loved to be in an audience, I can’t think of a more perfect way to spend her Jeopardy! winnings than on Broadway shows. 

In 1964, a ticket to a show on the Great White Way cost between $3 and $9, so hopefully the OG champion got her fill for weeks on end! It was a particularly great year for Broadway, as well, with some real classics opening that year. Hello, Dolly!, Funny Girl starring Barbra Streisand, and Fiddler on the Roof were among the many, many titles.

It sounds like the whole ordeal was quite an experience, and Mary Cabell Eubanks recalled wonderful parts of her time on the show, like sitting in the makeup chair next to the show’s creator Merv Griffin, who was “just as nice as he could be,” and how she amused the audience and original host Art Fleming with her Southern accent. 

The Final Jeopardy! question that day was about Hamlet, and Mary — a former English teacher — answered it with ease. The 84-year-old said she’s very proud to be part of the Jeopardy! legacy, as she had no idea the show was going to be such a phenomenon. She enjoys telling people her story, including how she has continued to use the experience as a theme for her life:

I love being a part of this particular show. It’s kind of been like the theme of my life in a sense, to not worry about doing new things because I started out early. As long as you just enjoy it, and as long as you have fun, everything will be good.

That may be the sweetest thing I hear today. Check your local listings to see when you can catch Jeopardy! in your area, and be sure to check out our 2022 TV Schedule to get the premiere dates of all of the new and returning shows.

Mom of two and hard-core '90s kid. Unprovoked, will quote Friends in any situation. Can usually be found rewatching The West Wing instead of doing anything productive.