How 'Jeopardy's Julia Collins is Breaking Records & Changing the Game

As game shows go, Jeopardy! isn't exactly the most female-friendly environment. Men have consistently dominated the show's contestants and winners, and host Alex Trebek often expresses surprise whenever women do well at categories relating to sports, cars, or other "male-oriented" subjects. Of the 63 people who have won more than $100,000 in the show's 50-year run, only ten have been women, and until last year, that number was six. Yet this season, that's all changing; of the 73 non-tournament matches that've aired in 2014, 45 have been won by female contestants. Since April, women have been crowned the champion of every single match that's been shown on the series. And then there's Julia Collins, a Jeopardy ! contestant who's earned nearly $400,000 so far, making her the winningest woman in the game show's history.

On Tuesday, Collins, a 31-year-old from Chicago, broke the previously-held record for most wins by a woman with her 17th straight victory. She won again on Wednesday, and, if she wins Thursday's game, will be tied with David Madden for the second most wins in Jeopardy! history. Only Ken Jennings has won more in the show's 50 years, doing so memorably with an astounding 74 victories.

With her appearances on the show and her accessibility to fans (she live-tweets each episode), Collins is quickly becoming a role model for female viewers. She's said that since her appearances on the show began, she's been sent emails from girls who've admitted they've felt like they've had to dumb themselves down in order to be liked. In response, Collins advises these girls to embrace their intelligence.

“If someone doesn’t like you because you’re smart,” she said, ”that’s their problem.”

According to ABC News, Collins was a "pretty nerdy kid" growing up, and predicted in her eighth-grade yearbook that she'd one day become a Jeopardy! champion. Although her friends and family undoubtedly knew of her love for the show, Collins wasn't allowed to talk about her time on the program between the time she taped the episodes and the day they began airing. During those several months, she had to field off questions from confused loved ones about why she'd quit her job and wasn't worrying about finding new work. Little did they know Collins was making $10,000 to $35,000 a day. To date, she's earned $391,600 from her time on the show.

Even disregarding the money, though, Collins' wins have impacted her life in a major way. They've also had a huge influence on the lives of the millions of female viewers watching the champion compete each episode.

“Any time girls or women see women being celebrated for being smart on TV, it’s a positive thing,” Collins told Vulture. “I’m not as important in the grand scheme of things as Susan B. Anthony, let’s be real here. But the more that it’s something that’s just part of the way things are, the better.”

Regardless of if she wins tonight's competition, Collins will certainly have made an enormous impact on the show's reputation as a male-dominated game show. Even before her, Jeopardy! has made an effort in recent years to allow more women on its episodes, because, as Collins and the female winners before her have made clear, the small number of female winners is not due to lesser ability, but the lack of women cast on the series in the first place. Now that she's becoming so visible, though, Collins will surely lead Jeopardy! even further in the right direction, and convince any woman thinking about competing that the have just as much of a chance of getting on the series as any man — provided they're crazy smart, scarily competitive, and know way too much about a whole lot of topics normal people will never understand, of course.

Images: Sony