Alex, We’ll Take ‘To Have and to Hold’ for $1,000

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Alex, We’ll Take ‘To Have and to Hold’ for $1,000

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The category is: “North Meets South.”

And here’s the answer: The Canadian high school teacher and the middle school teacher from South Carolina who met as fellow contestants on “Jeopardy” and went on to be married.

And the correct question is: Who are Maryanne Lewell and Michael Townes?

Ms. Lewell, now 41, and Mr. Townes, 37, came buzzing into each other’s lives in October 2013, among those gathering before Alex Trebek to compete in the game show’s annual Teachers Tournament.

Each had scored very well in an online test for potential “Jeopardy” contestants and was contacted for auditions, hers in New York, his in Nashville.

Casting producers liked them enough to invite both to the show, which was filmed in Culver City, Calif. They began chatting, along with 13 other contestants, while waiting nervously in the green room for their 22 minutes of fame.

Mr. Townes soon found out that Ms. Lewell was single and taught history and social studies at Saint John High School in Saint John, New Brunswick.

“If Maryanne were part of a ‘Jeopardy’ category, it would have to be ‘Nerdy Redheads,’” Mr. Townes joked. “Much like myself, she was into a lot of nerdy sort of pursuits.”

Ms. Lewell, who said that Mr. Townes belonged in a “Kind of Cute, Kind of Funny,” category, learned that he was divorced with two young children, and taught middle school English in the Greenville County school district’s alternative program.

“He was such an easygoing and kind person,” she said. “I felt very comfortable around him.”

But Mr. Townes was not the only reason she had made the trek to the only place in the world where people routinely respond to answers with questions.

“I was there to play the game,” Ms. Lewell said. “When you’re in a group like that, it’s really overwhelming because there’s a lot of information coming at you.

“There’s all the rules and regulations, and you have makeup people, and the contestant coordinators telling you how the show is going to work. I was busy trying to take in all of that information in order to play the game properly.”

Ms. Lewell, who appeared in two of the 10 episodes filmed over two days, made it to the semifinals, while Mr. Townes, who competed on a separate show, did not get past the quarterfinals.

“It’s sort of a sore subject,” said Mr. Townes, who was leading at the end of the Double Jeopardy round with $16,400 before he was abruptly eliminated.

“The category I went out on for Final Jeopardy was ‘Play Characters,’” he said. “The question wound up being Henry Higgins, from ‘My Fair Lady,’ which is a play that I really liked, but I completely blanked.” (The “answer” was: In Peter Roach’s phonetics glossary, this alliterative guy is “the best-known fictional phonetician.”)

After the first day of taping, the contestants went out for drinks, and Ms. Lewell and Mr. Townes sat beside each other to continue their conversation.

As it turned out, their academic roads to “Jeopardy” were paved with three diplomas apiece.

Ms. Lewell graduated with a bachelor’s in arts from the University of New Brunswick, where she also received a Master of Arts degree in English, and she earned a second bachelor’s, in education, from St. Thomas University in Fredericton, New Brunswick.

“She was so sweet and smart and easy to talk to,” said Mr. Townes, a son of Suzanne Townes and Stephen Townes, the chief operating officer of Ranger Aerospace, a private equity consolidator and management holding company in Greenville.

Ms. Lewell was feeling much the same about Mr. Townes, who had graduated from the University of South Carolina, from which he also received an M.B.A. He also held a Master of Arts degree in teaching from Clemson.

“He was a well-educated guy who really loved his kids,” said Ms. Lewell, the only daughter of Donna Lewell and David Lewell, a retired civil engineering technician for the city of Saint John.

“Mike was just a fun person to be with,” she said. “I find a sense of humor to be pretty attractive.”

They parted ways for the evening, and as Mr. Townes made his way back to his hotel room, he ran into another contestant, Mary Beth Hammerstrom, who recalled how smitten Mr. Townes had become with Ms. Lewell.

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“Our conversation started with Mike saying, ‘That girl from Canada is so smart,’” she said, “and continued with him saying, ‘That girl from Canada is so beautiful’ and ‘That girl from Canada is so witty.’

“It ended with Mike saying, ‘That girl from Canada is so out of my league.’”

The next night, after taping was completed, several contestants went out for dinner. Mr. Townes stayed briefly with the group but soon headed for the airport, where he took a red-eye flight back home.

“All of a sudden, Mike was gone,” Ms. Lewell said. “I figured, ‘Well, I live in Canada and he lives in South Carolina, that’s the last I’ve seen of that guy’ — I was really sad to see him go.”

But almost immediately, most of the group began chatting via Facebook, and Ms. Lewell and Mr. Townes embarked on sidebar conversations that highlighted such common interests as “wonky politics,” as Mr. Townes put it, as well as a love of travel, comic books and science fiction movies.

“She was always on my mind,” Mr. Townes said. “Most of the things I texted her about were really just excuses to talk to her again.”

Indeed, she received a text when he took his two children — Annmarie, now 8, and Reeve, 12 — to a minor league hockey game, and another when he attended a 50th anniversary screening of “Doctor Who,” sending her a picture of his ticket stub with the words “ha ha, be jealous,” scrawled across it.

Each passing text tugged at Ms. Lewell’s heart, pulling her toward a new life that beckoned beyond the border.

“When you really connect with somebody, there’s an intangible thing where you almost instantly start to share and speak the same language,” she said. “You understand what the other person means, and we had that right from the get-go.”

They grew closer online, watching most of the Winter Olympics from Sochi, Russia, in February 2014, and trading comments about the performances of their fellow countrymen.

Later that month, Mr. Townes sent Ms. Lewell a different sort of comment. “At the risk of what seems like a fairly strong friendship here,” he texted, “I really just have to say, I hope it’s not too weird, but if we lived in the same city, there’s really no way I wouldn’t have asked you out by now.”

He was speaking her language.

“The chemistry between us was so evident,” Ms. Lewell said. “One of us just had to acknowledge it.”

In June 2014, Mr. Townes visited Ms. Lewell for the first time, spending 10 days in her native Saint John, where fishing is one of the region’s major industries. She gave him a tour that included several restaurants for sampling sticky buns and fish and chips, and a visit to the majestic Hopewell Rocks, which stand up to 70 feet tall and are washed over by some of the highest tides in the world.

“I really enjoyed it,” Mr. Townes said. “There’s a lot in Saint John that reminds me of home, especially the people, who go out of their way to be polite, and have that Southern sensibility that family is first.”

The next month, Ms. Lewell joined Mr. Townes and his family on their annual summer trip to Edisto Island, S.C.

“I met everyone at once, and we had a great time,” she said. “I think Mike and I had already fallen in love by then, but at that point, we were all in.”

She visited him again at Christmas, and they began a long-distance relationship that did not become known to their “Jeopardy” friends until spring 2015, when Ms. Lowell and Mr. Townes reached out to six of them to plan a reunion in Washington.

Ms. Lowell told Ms. Hammerstrom that she was bringing her new boyfriend but gave no name, saying only that “he feels like he knows you already.”

Ms. Hammerstrom remembered thinking, “Poor Mike, he will be so upset.”

But a few weeks later, Ms. Lewell revealed her boyfriend’s identity to the other “Jeopardy” teachers, posting photos of her and Mr. Townes on one of their nerdy pursuits: “They were standing in front of Stephen King’s house in Bangor, Me.,” Ms. Hammerstrom said, laughing. “The cat was finally out of the bag.”

At the reunion, Ms. Lewell told everyone what she had been telling her own family about Mr. Townes.

“My life works better when he’s in it; everything just runs more smoothly,” she said.

“I’m a single lady of 40 with no kids, and this guy, who’s a dad, comes into my life with two awesome kids and gives me the opportunity to be a stepparent, which is something I never expected or knew that I wanted,” said Ms. Lewell, her voice beginning to quiver. “It has been one of the greatest gifts of my life.”

They were married July 7 at St. Andrew’s Catholic Church in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, where Msgr. Brian Henneberry welcomed 90 guests, many holding the couple’s wedding program, which included a note that read in part, “This journey began under the bright lights of a California soundstage, and we can’t wait to share our future adventures with you.”

Their reception followed at the Van Horne Ballroom on the grounds of the nearby Algonquin Resort, which was decorated with four gold-colored balloons spelling “Love.” A photo station featured two life-size cardboard cutouts, one of an Imperial Stormtrooper from “Star Wars” and the other of Aragorn, from “Lord of the Rings.” Guests were prompted to put on masks and other props and wave lightsabers at one another.

“Hopefully, they will always be happy,” said Donna Lewell, the bride’s mother.

The bride plans to move to South Carolina but must first get all of her immigration-related paperwork taken care of. She is also waiting to see if her teaching certificate is going to transfer.

One invited guest who could not attend the festivities offered best wishes via email.

“My congratulations to the couple,” Mr. Trebek wrote. “Although Maryanne and Michael are not the first couple to have met at ‘Jeopardy’ and gone on to be married, they participated in one of our best Teachers Tournaments.”

Mr. Trebek then placed the couple in their very own “Jeopardy”-like category. “Even though neither won the competition,” he said, “they certainly are ‘Winners in Love.’”

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