A Final Assessment on The First Ever Jeopardy Masters

David B Morris
13 min readMay 27


And An Opinion From A Real Jeopardy Fan To The Ones On The Internet Who Are Watching for the Wrong Reasons

They are a great Jeopardy champion. That they look good doing it is incidental.

There’s a fair amount to write about in Jeopardy news this week, but before I begin commentary on the gameplay, sadly I find myself compelled to write about some of the online commentators who seem to have very weird thoughts about why they are watching the show.

Earlier this week after the Jeopardy Masters Tournament was over, I saw an article called: “Who Really Won The Jeopardy Masters Tournament?” It had nothing to do with the competition, how the games went, the difficulty of the questions or even who won. No, in the first paragraph the writer said that no matter what the producers tried to do to make the game exciting, the problem was all these people were good at trivia.

It then proceeded to rank the contestants by personality and wardrobe, calling Matt Amodio as unexciting because he is too humble, calling Mattea Roach a great player not because of their skills but because of their wardrobe and Sam Buttrey, who ended up coming in last ‘the winner’ because of his banter and catchphrase.

(Audible Sigh) I say this with all the love in the world: whoever really thinks they are performing a service here, please go back to ranking the contestants on Survivor and Big Brother where you belong. Jeopardy is a game show where you earn money for asking questions. It is not now and has never been a pageant. I seriously doubt whoever wrote this column ever saw an episode of Jeopardy in their lives; they certainly had no idea what these contestants were doing here or why this tournament was being held in the first place. I doubt they could answer any of these questions in the first place or even knew who Alex Trebek was. (“Oh yeah, he was that guy Will Ferrell pretended to be on SNL? “ )

Jeopardy is only a reality show in the sense that the contestant are actual human beings in competition. Some of them may have appeared on as many episodes of TV as the Kardashians, but unlike them they have actually had to accomplish something to become famous. There are already enough people online henpecking Jeopardy players for not being interesting, being too camera friendly, too annoying, having too little personality, being too serious, being too funny and basically any reason under the sun that someone doesn’t agree with. This article plays directly in to that and it doesn’t even bother to acknowledge why they’re in the first place. Please devote your energy to something it deserves — like why The Bachelorette gave the rose to the wrong man this week.

And from famine to feast, I saw another article this week that a major problem with Jeopardy was now there seemed to much of it and compared it, in some bizarre fashion, to the DC Universe.

Yes, there’s too much Jeopardy. The show films 230 episodes a year, which is more than any other game show on TV. I honestly thought in the last years of Alex Trebek’s run, it might have made sense to cut down to two hundred shows. (Even Wheel of Fortune has fewer.) The argument might have been made that there is now too much of a presence on prime-time, which is equally ridiculous considering this is the first year Jeopardy has had regular prime-time broadcast in nearly four decades. Of course that’s a specious complaint too: you’re under no obligation to watch every episode if you don’t want too. And the idea that the show is in danger of overextending itself the way Who Wants to be A Millionaire did is equally silly considering that this is the first time it has done any extending in more than thirty years.

Then of course, there is the problem of personality that this writer complained of, which is the opposite of the one in the first article. “Why are so many Jeopardy champions trying to become characters?” If this isn’t proof that Jeopardy champions can’t satisfy anybody, I don’t know what is. Honestly if the Internet had been around in the 1980s, I manage people would have said: “Why can’t Alex Trebek be more colorful?”

I’d ask them why they can’t just focus on the game play itself, but sadly that actually leads to another major hobby-horse that the internet is in an uproar about this week.

As those of you who have watched Jeopardy this past week know, Ben Chan entered Tuesday’s game with an impressive track record of nine wins and $252,600. Even more impressive, he had won all nine games in runaway victories never truly being challenged until the last two games. There had been signs over the last few victories that he was human and on Tuesday that became increasingly prevalent. He got off to a fast start in the Jeopardy round yet again, but when he found the Daily Double this time, he could not respond correctly and lost everything. Again he rebuilt and by the end of the round, he had an impressive $7200, $6200 more than his third place opponent Lynn Di Vito.

Lynn, however, got off to a fast start in Double Jeopardy, getting five of the first six clues correct and finding the first Daily Double ahead of Ben. She moved into the lead. Ben did not ring in until the ninth clue of the round, moved into the lead but when he found the second Daily Double, he again responded incorrectly and lost it. The rest of the round was a back and forth between Ben and Lynn with Ben finally moving into the lead with $17,400 to Lynn’s $14,800.

Before we get to Final Jeopardy a refresher on the rules. When it comes to Final Jeopardy, judges have strict standards when it comes to misspelling. They are relatively lenient on it except on one condition: if your error changes the response to a different word. I remember once they ruled a contestant incorrect when he wrote down Pictcairn island instead of Pitcairn. He had changed it to a different word.

Ready everybody?

The Final Jeopardy category was SHAKESPEARE’S CHARACTERS: “Both of the names of these two lovers in a Shakespeare play come from Latin words for ‘blessed’. Both Danny and Lynn wrote down Romeo and Juliet. Ben wrote down: “Who are Beatrice and Benedict?” Mayim Bialik said that was incorrect because the lovers in Much Ado About Nothing are Beatrice and Benedick. Because of that ruling Ben lost more money than Lynn and Lynn became the new champion.

Now the internet went into an uproar. Never mind that in every edition of Much Ado About Nothing that has been published the characters name has always been Benedick. You can find that in every single cast that has been filmed listed on imdb.com. It is listed in Wikipedia as Benedick. The First Folio has it as Benedick. In no world are Benedick and Benedict the same name.

That is irrelevant to the internet whose reaction is more or less: “We know what he meant. Who cares about a minor thing like the rules of Jeopardy?” I imagine these are the same people who, when the Second Chance Tournament was announced said something along the lines of: “These people had their chance. They lost. They should go home.”

Ben is a great Jeopardy player. He’s coming back next year for the Tournament of Champions and was going to no matter what, so at the end of the day this is less about Ben and what the masses consider ‘fair’. I get that there are people who are still pissed at the idea of technicalities working against their favorite sports teams when they lose big games. Not to mention the fact that Ben didn’t only lose because he wrote the incorrect response. He lost because he bet too much and lost it while Lynn wagered less. If Ben had chosen to wager less, we wouldn’t be having this conversation in the place.

This is how Jeopardy has always worked. Sometimes your wagers work against you; sometimes they work for you. For all the adjustments Jeopardy has made over the years, they have not changed this rule in forty years. They didn’t do it when Alex Trebek was the host; they won’t do it now. Suck it up and live with it.

Now let’s move on to a more cheerful topic: the Jeopardy Masters viewed from how much fun it was for a Jeopardy fan. The entire quarterfinals had been a superb amount of enjoyment, both for the level of play, the ability of the contestants and the work of all six players. Things got more serious in the semi-finals with the payday getting closer with every game.

This was particularly true for James Holzhauer. In his seven quarterfinal matches he had been so dominant in all but one that he had almost never taken Final Jeopardy seriously, using it to mock either Ken Jennings or his other competitors. He was not in a position to do so in the semi-finals because while he won all three of his games, in none of them was he in the same position he had been in during the quarter-finals.

In his first match against Andrew He and Matt Amodio, both men managed to keep up with him the entire game and he was in no position to screw around in Final Jeopardy. All three men responded correctly. Things got even worse for him in his second semi-final match when Mattea Roach went on an extraordinary run in Double Jeopardy and had a pretty good lead over him when the round ended — the first time in the entire Tournament he had been in second place.

Essentially it would come down to Final Jeopardy which had to do with FAMOUS SHIPS. In a clue that had to do with the Golden Hind (the ship that Francis Drake used to circumnavigate the globe in the sixteenth century) both he and Andrew He came up with the correct response and Mattea did not. After the game was over James, who despite claiming to be a game show villain clearly recognizes game, admitted how lucky he was and how impressed he was by Mattea. James victory guaranteed him a spot in the semi-finals and he managed his only runaway victory in his third and final match — though it was not an easy win for him and he did not get Final Jeopardy correct.

The last match featured Andrew He, Mattea Roach and Matt Amodio. At the time, Mattea had two match points, Andrew had 1, and Matt had zero. The only way Matt could get into the finals was if he was able to win this match. The pressure was on him and he knew it.

Matt would struggle early in the Jeopardy round of the match, but in Double Jeopardy came through in the clutch. He would find both Daily Doubles back to back and build himself an insurmountable lead. Mattea and Andrew now had to fight for second place — which would determine the last finalist.

The Final Jeopardy category was a tricky one: OPERA & HISTORY. So was the clue: “Appropriately, the last opera performed in the Vienna Opera House before it was destroyed by bombing in 1945 was this one that was written in 1876.” It did not occur to me at home what the opera was until after Ken gave a small hint at the end: (I thought it was Die Fledermaus, Johann Strauss II’s opera that takes place on New Year’s Eve.) Matt was humble and as his response wrote down: “What an honor it is to share the stage with these great players. Mattea was closest when they wrote down Lohengrin; it was the right composer but the wrong work. It was actually Gotterdammerung, the last opera in Wagner’s ring cycle which ends with the world being destroyed. The game ended with Andrew and Mattea tied with 2 match points each. The tiebreaker was how many correct responses each had given in their three matches: Mattea had given 50; Andrew 45. Mattea was in the finals as Andrew demonstrated again what a great Tournament player he is and left with another $100,000. He shall return to the stage someday soon.

The finals, as they so often are, were a two-game total point affair between James, Matt and Mattea. There was something fitting about it considering that the three of them had won, respectively, the third, fourth and fifth most games in Jeopardy history. James’ had been very successful at finding Daily Doubles early in both the Jeopardy and Double Jeopardy rounds; in the finals it began to backfire. He found the first Daily Double on the first clue but got it wrong and lost 1000 points. He would spend much of the first Jeopardy round building a lead, but it was not early as big as it had been in his previous matches.

Again he found the Daily Double early in the Double Jeopardy round, but Mattea refused to go quietly. They found the second Daily Double wagered big and managed to close the gap. Matt kept struggling to get in ahead of these two players: he was only to come up with 6000 points by the end of Double Jeopardy. Mattea and James had a sizable lead.

The first Final Jeopardy category was AFRICA. “A major seaport and formerly a world capital, it has a name which is Arabic for: “Abode of Peace”. All three players knew the correct response: “What is Dar es Salaam?” (the capital of Tanzania before it moved to Dodoma). Matt doubled his score to 8800 points; Mattea was at 24,800 points and James had roughly 34,314 points.

In Double Jeopardy James again found the Daily Double on the first clue and again lost 1000 points. James spent much of Jeopardy trying to get out the red. Mattea built a substantial lead in Double Jeopardy when they found the Daily Double early. Matt’s best chance to get back in it came when he found the second Daily Double and wagered the 9400 points he had. Daily Doubles had been problematic to Matt before and they were the case this time, he lost everything. Going into Final Jeopardy Mattea had an immense lead with 22,800 points to James’ 9600 points and Matt’s 3200. Mattea was in a good position if they could get Final Jeopardy correct.

The category was LATIN IN LITERATURE: “A work by this 15th century English writer quotes the phrase: ‘Rex quondam Rexque futurus.” Matt, who was out of it, wrote down as Final Jeopardy: “Who…will…win?” It cost him nothing. James was on the right track when he wrote down: “Who is T. H. White?” but he wagered 119 points. He played it very safe, which was reasonable. His two day total 43,986 points. Mattea wrote down: “Who is Chaucer?” That was wrong.

I reasoned it out at home. Like them, I realized that this translated to ‘The Once and Future King’. I knew this referred to King Arthur, and though I could not remember the title of the work I remembered Camelot and made the connection to Thomas Malory.

It came down to wagers. Mattea risked 5915. That dropped them to 16, 885. Their two day total was 41,685 points which was enough to give James the first ever Masters Tournament Title and half a million dollars.

James may have spent much of the tournament casting himself as the game show villain, but as we saw throughout the tournament that had always been a façade. He made it very clear when his first actions as victor were to walk over to Mattea and embrace both them and Matt. It had already been an emotional tournament for Mattea. While the tournament had been shooting Mattea’s father had died from an aneurysm and the producers had been more than willing to stop filming for them to be with their family and attend the funeral. Now in paying tribute to the player who had nearly beaten him James told them: “You played amazingly. Your dad would be so proud. Your mom too.” Then he walked over to Ken and the two men embraced as Ken hadn’t him the inaugural Alex Trebek trophy.

James, at this point in history, is the third biggest money winner of all time behind Jennings and Brad Rutter. Matt Amodio’s $150,000 for third place officially keep him in fifth behind those three players and Amy Schneider, who left with another $75,000 to her total. Mattea, with their $250,000, has officially moved to $820,983 which now moves them up ahead to the sixth highest money winner in Jeopardy history, moving past, among others, Larissa Kelly, David Madden and this year’s biggest winner Cris Panullo. (Panullo, of course, will have a chance to regain the advantage sooner than most of the others on this list when next season’s Tournament of Champions takes place.)

The Jeopardy Masters Tournament has been, in short, everything a true fan of the show could have hoped for. It has been thrilling, had mind-bending and breaking questions, introduced ways to pay tribute to the tournament as well as mock the players competing, featured some of the most thrilling games in a very long time on the Jeopardy stage and ended with one of the most exciting finishes any super-tournament has had in a very long time. It seems like it has also been a huge rating success, managing to get between 6 to 7 million viewers in the initial rounds, which is fine by network standards of today and spectacular for a game show in prime time.

While revealing the Daily Double may be troubling to purists (I just averted my eyes every time they were revealed) I have no problem with the match point system or the tie breaker system. It added more excitement to the quarter and semi-final matches and made how one finished in every game important and lent excitement in every form. And one must, as Sam Buttrey did, give credit to the writers: they have always outdone themselves in tournaments like this, but in this one they more than outdid themselves.

Much as I hope this tournament will not serve as a substitute for the 40th Anniversary one I hope is coming next season, as a fan of the super-tournament, which make no mistake this one, I would be perfectly fine if this became an annual affair. Jeopardy has a long history of great players and this would be a superb way to honor both the past and the present by recognizing over time so many of the great players that deserve to be considered masters. If we were merely to start by going through the super-champions who have already done so well on the show as a standard, it would be more than sufficient for fans like me.

James Holzhauer and Mattea Roach have by winning and finishing second in this tournament earned the right to compete next year. I don’t know who will be on the invite list for the next Masters yet but considering how much back and forth went on between Ken and James, it is time to bring Brad Rutter and Buzzy Cohen back for the next time? I have more suggestions, of course, but I will save them for later. They have personalities, of course, but that’s not the only reason we should watch.



David B Morris

After years of laboring for love in my blog on TV, I have decided to expand my horizons by blogging about my great love to a new and hopefully wider field.