When Alex Trebek asked the contestants which glands were responsible for producing milk, Columbia resident Joy Bell's eyes lighted up about as fast as her "Jeopardy!" console.
Talk about a subject right up your alley. Ms. Bell, a child birth educator and lactation consultant at the Washington Hospital Center, said she chuckled at that one as she beat her two challengers to the buzzer.
"What are mammary glands?" she responded in the quirky style of the popular, long-running television quiz show in which contestants frame answers in the form of questions.
That answer helped Ms. Bell on her way to dethroning the reigning "Jeopardy!" champion and a run on the show so far worth more than $15,000.
She will be going for her third win on tonight's show at 7:30 p.m. on WMAR (Channel 2). She won her first two games on taped broadcasts that aired the past two nights.
"I've been watching it forever, since the '60s," said the 41-year-old Owen Brown village resident, who has a bachelor's degree in nursing from Hampton University in Virginia. "I had wanted to be a contestant on the new version and kept my eye out for contestant searches."
On last night's broadcast, another question struck a familiar chord for Ms. Bell, causing her to chuckle while delivering the correct answer. It just so happens that the Jordan River is where John the Baptist did his baptizing. Ms. Bell's 2-year-old daughter's name? Jordan.
She also got high marks (and important points) for pronunciation in her second-game win over Curt from Dover, N.J., and Bob from Bethesda. When Curt stumbled trying to pronounce the religion associated with reggae music, Ms. Bell picked up the slack, answering, "What is Ras-ta-far-i-an-ism?"
Ms. Bell's "Jeopardy!" odyssey took her to Merv Griffin Resorts in Atlantic City, N.J., twice last spring for qualifying tests, an interview and a mock game, and to Hollywood to tape the real thing on Aug. 2. She paid her own way for the trips, staying with cousins she met for the first time in Los Angeles.
Ms. Bell said the earnings -- after the California and federal governments receive their share in taxes -- will help pay for Jordan's expenses. But it is the experience, not the money, that she treasures, she said.
Ms. Bell said she started slow in her first game.
"I was really sucking dirt for a while, but then I kind of cleaned up a couple categories," including "Authors" and "Dance," she said.
She attributed her first victory partly to an offhand backstage comment uttered arrogantly by the champion she ousted.
Talking to another challenger, the champion said he had an easy time and no jitters in winning his first game and anticipated more of the same, Ms. Bell related.
"To me it was like a challenge," she said. "I wasn't nervous because of what that guy said."
She said she was surprised at how small the studio was, and yes, Alex Trebek really is a nice guy.
And she wants to set the record straight for people who believe "Jeopardy!" producers give the contestants scripts or materials or subjects to study: "They don't give you anything!" she said.