By Patrick McAuliffe
In a world of game shows filled nauseatingly to the brim with celebrity appearances and singing competitions, Jeopardy! is still going strong in its 38th season this year. The timeless “Wheel of Fortune for smart people,” as the show is commonly known to myself alone, is a staple of evening television that provides an opportunity for ordinary people from around America to strut their smarts for impressive cash prizes (which, admittedly, are massively undervalued from tHe CuRrEnT yEaR’s 7% inflation rate). From the end of season 37 to today, at time of writing, two contestants have entered the Top 4 all-time Jeopardy! leaderboards in earnings and consecutive wins, while others had comparatively smaller but still impressive runs. Their prowess on the buzzer is an honor to the game and a thrilling inspiration to anyone looking to make their mark on Jeopardy! history.
The nation reeled at the loss of Alex Trebek a little over a year ago. After a series of guest judges, including my boy Aaron Rodgers, and a tweet scandal from executive producer Mike Richards, the series’ showrunners settled on actress and Ph.D holder Mayim Bialik to host the show. Ken Jennings, the record-holder for the longest Jeopardy! run in history at 74 consecutive wins, would also host for half of season 38. Bialik and Jennings seem to enjoy their time in Trebek’s shoes, and they riff with the contestants as if they had been doing it all their lives.
The contestants themselves have been absolutely stellar this season as well. Season 37’s conclusion saw Matt Amodio on a hot winning streak, and that streak continued into Season 38. His boyish charm, nerdy demeanor, and lanky frame grew on me as he won week after week. His wins were also quite absolute; he averaged almost $40,000 per day by the end of his run in October 2021. Amodio now holds the third-longest win streak in Jeopardy history, with 38 regular-season wins, and the third-highest earnings in regular-season play, with $1,518,601. He was finally defeated by Jonathan Fisher, who had an impressive 11-day streak as well. This season was already one for the ages by the time 2022 rolled around.
The new year brought a new Jeopardy! threat in the form of contestant Amy Schneider. Her run began in mid-November 2021, when her speed and knowledge became quickly apparent. She became known for her bold Daily Double plays, commonly making them true Daily Doubles or a flat $4,000-$5,000 bet, and netted almost $35,000 per game. She made Jeopardy! history on January 24th by reaching 39 consecutive wins, passing Matt Amodio’s record set just a few months earlier and cementing herself behind only Ken Jennings as the holder of the second-longest regular-season winning streak. Schneider was finally defeated on January 26th by Rhone Talsma, reaching 40 consecutive wins and $1,382,800 in prize money.
The key strategy that helped propel Schneider and Amodio to Jeopardy! greatness became apparent as they continued their streaks. Beyond the ability to buzz in quickly and with the correct answers, most contestants work from the easiest clues to the hardest as time goes on. This seems fairly intuitive. Schneider and Amodio loosely followed this trend, but would sometimes start in the middle of the clue board to sniff out the crux of their strategy: the Daily Doubles. The bold wagers that they employed here, bolstered by their impressive bank of knowledge, often set them far ahead of their competitors. Oftentimes, the disparity between their winnings and those of their competitors was so great by the beginning of Double Jeopardy! that the result of the game was obvious even before the Final Jeopardy! question.
Jeopardy! has been testing the limits of ordinary people’s knowledge for decades. Watching such historic runs from Schneider and Amodio just a few months apart reminds me of the power of a seemingly simple trivia game show. I applaud the success of season 38’s contestants, and I look forward to watching the next Amy or Matt or Ken on a historic run that pushes those winning streaks even further. Our record’s in Jeopardy!, baby, and it’s never been a better time to be a trivia fan.