DEVENS, Mass. –
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Susan McMillan, a trainer for the 3rd Battalion, 304th Regiment (USMA), 104th Training Division (Leader Training), walked onto the set of the game show "Jeopardy!" Lights illuminated her face as she stepped onto the stage. The podiums stood before her, and the board with all the answers was displayed, just as she remembered watching the show for so many years.
She was nervous, she said, but excited.
McMillan dresses neat, and her face has a complexion of confidence. She speaks with articulation. It is apparent knowledge is something she takes seriously, and that she has a love for learning.
McMillan applied to be on "Jeopardy!" in the spring of 2020. It was right after Alex Trebek announced he had cancer.
“I wanted to be there with Alex Trebek,” she said. “On top of that, nobody knew if the show would go on after he was gone.”
McMillan made it through the first round of applications, but she said the process was long. A few more waves of applications and tests went through as time passed. In November of 2020, McMillan got the news that Trebek had passed away.
“It was very sad news to hear,” she said. “Alex was someone who was in people’s homes almost every night.”
Ultimately, McMillan made it through and was selected to be on the show. McMillan found out Dr. Oz would be the guest host. It was also Oz’s first time on the show.
When her game started, she blew through the competition. By the time it came to Final Jeopardy!, McMillan had a sizable lead. As icing on the cake, the final answer was perfectly tailored to her knowledge, she said.
The answer was related to one of her passions — national parks.
She beat her competition and moved on to the next show.
Unfortunately, the next show ended her time on "Jeopardy!," but she said it was rewarding nonetheless.
“My most disappointing thing was not losing,” she said. “It was not being able to see Alex.”
McMillan said she has always had a knack for trivia. She did well in school, and she studied journalism in college.
It wasn’t until she was working as a newspaper reporter when she realized she wanted to do more.
In 2014, she decided to take her knowledge to the Army.
McMillan enlisted and chose to be a cryptologic linguist. She said a linguist is a very difficult occupation. After 2 1/2 years of military schooling, she became fluent in Arabic.
“The Army didn’t necessarily help me during my time on 'Jeopardy!,' ” McMillan said. “It did give me an opportunity to expand my knowledge, though.” She said her ability to retain knowledge, however, helped her excel in both fields.
“There’s a parallel you see with the military training,” she said. She mentioned having to sit through hours of military classes, just trying to retain knowledge.
“No matter what situation you are in, you have to be able to absorb a fire hose of information,” McMillan said. “You have to be able to adapt.”