Dennis Coffey’s reign as “Jeopardy!” champion ended on Wednesday night, but not before he seized his moment in the national spotlight to remind Americans that the opioid crisis needs to be addressed.

The bartender from Old Orchard Beach brought up the opioid epidemic during the segment of the show where host Alex Trebek offers each contestant a brief opportunity to talk about their life and background.

Coffey, who has worked at a number of different jobs over the course of his lifetime, including a stint as a convenience store clerk in Old Orchard Beach, told Trebek he wanted to take a moment to remember two young women he met while working at the store in 2015. He said each died from an opioid overdose, an epidemic he said affects not only people in Maine, but across the nation.

In a telephone interview after the show, Coffey said he will never forget the women, whom he became friendly with around the time he was trying to get on the show.

“I’m no crusader and I’ve never been much involved in causes, but I can remember having some great conversations with them. Their loss hit the Old Orchard Beach community very hard,” Coffey said of the women he identified as Sarah Berlin and Molly Parks.

Coffey admitted Wednesday evening  that he struggled with whether it would be appropriate to talk about the opioid epidemic on the game show. But his instincts were right.

“It’s time we stepped up to the plate and did something about it,”  Trebek said.

Coffey’s run on the show ended Wednesday night after he incorrectly answered the Final Jeopardy!” question: Of the five inhabited U.S. territories, this is the only one where cars drive on the left. Coffey lost his $14,101 wager and wound up with $399. Coffey wrote Guam, but the correct answer was the U.S. Virgin Islands.

When added to his previous winnings, Coffey said he will receive $52,203. John Cuevos, a casino slot floor person from San Marcos, California, defeated Coffey to become the new champion.

Coffey, who was making his fourth appearance, and Cuevas dueled throughout the show, ending the Double “Jeopardy!” segment with $14,500 and $15,200, respectively.

Dennis Coffey reacts as his second win on “Jeopardy!” is shown on TV Monday night at Duffy’s Tavern and Grill in Old Orchard Beach. The four shows in which he appeared were taped last fall, but he couldn’t tell anyone about the outcome until Wednesday, when his last game aired. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Cuevas ended the night with $29,001. The third competitor, Lau Mehes, a youth substance prevention worker from Vancouver, British Columbia, who was on her honeymoon during the filming of the show, finished in second place with $400.

Coffey’s winning streak started Friday night when he defeated two librarians. He came from behind to win on Monday evening’s show, watching it while working at Duffy’s Bar & Grill in Old Orchard Beach with more than 100 friends and bar regulars who showed up to cheer him on.

In his next match Tuesday evening, Coffey spent the night watching the show at his aunt and uncle’s home. He defeated his two opponents by correctly answering the final “Jeopardy!” question under the category of Classic Movies. His closest opponent also gave the correct response, but Coffey outwagered her, winning by just $601.

Coffey watched Wednesday’s show from home. Terms of a nondisclosure agreement prohibited him from discussing the outcomes of shows, which were taped in October, until they aired on television.

Though Coffey downplays his game skills, his girlfriend,  Karen Nickerson, said she has nothing but admiration for him.

“Even before he went on the show, he amazed me at how smart he is,” Nickerson said during an interview at Monday’s watch party. His sudden celebrity status was a bit unnerving at first, but Nickerson said she grew accustomed to his popularity.

“It’s OK. He has earned this spot. He deserves it,” she said.

Bartenders are naturally good at trivia, Coffey said, noting that people always want their facts checked or are asking for the latest sports news.

Coffey said he has no specific plans for how he will spend his winnings other than making donations to charitable organizations and doing some travel.

“Reality check time. I’m not an elite player, but I scrapped,” Coffey said.

Coffey, who has lived in Old Orchard Beach for most of his his life, is an Old Orchard Beach High School graduate.

Coffey became the second Mainer in recent memory to do well on the show. Jessica Garsed, a librarian from Augusta, appeared on the show in October and won more than $53,000 before she was eliminated in her fourth game.

Garsed is a 32-year-old medical librarian at Togus, who took an online test on a whim after people told her she should be on “Jeopardy!” The online test asks 50 questions of participants at rapid-fire pace. She was later invited to an audition in Boston.

Coffey’s appearance on the show comes at a time when public interest is high. In early January, ABC did a prime-time news special focusing on Trebek, who has hosted the syndicated show since 1984, and his battle with pancreatic cancer.

 

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