After 40 Days And 40 Nights, Amy Schneider’s Remarkable Winning Streak Ends

A Look At Jeopardy’s Season So Far

Second to none… well, except the host. newsweek.com

If you’re a Jeopardy fan you know all the connotations of the number 40 — forty days of Noah’s Ark, the Muddy Waters song involving 40 Days and 40 Nights, the 40 Acres and a Mule associated with the Homestead Act and Spike Lee, the 40 Days of Musa Dagh — and those are just the obvious ones. Now there’s a very specific reason to associate Jeopardy with the number 40 — the 40 days that Amy Schneider has spent as Jeopardy champion.

Barely a month after Matt Amodio completed a thirty eight streak that set the second place mark for most consecutive games won by a Jeopardy champion, Amy Schneider made her debut on Jeopardy, unseating five time champion Andrew Hi. No one could have suspected it would be the beginning of what on almost any other year would be the most impressive run in game show history but would only be the second so far in Season 38.

Slowly but surely Amy began to surpass other prominent records in Jeopardy history. On her eleventh game she surpassed Julia Collins for the most money won by a female contestant in her original run. On her seventeenth win, she surpassed Larissa Kelly as the all-time winningest female contestant. (Larissa congratulated her on her victory in a tweet. Four days later, she surpassed Julia again for most games won by a female contestant and fourth all time behind James Holzhauer, Amodio and the current host of Jeopardy Ken Jennings. And the answer was very far indeed.

She passed James Holzhauer’s 32 game mark this January 13th and on Monday passed Matt Amodio for second place all time. She was not winning anywhere near the same rate as Holzhauer had (she was a more conservative player on Daily Doubles and her approach to the game board in general) but she was as consistent as Amodio and Jennings. By game 38 she was slightly behind Matt’s total at that point, but basically dead even with Ken Jennings. Indeed on her fortieth win, she was slightly ahead of him at that point (Her total was $1,382,800; Ken’s was at $1,353, 461.)

But over the past two weeks of her run, a decided flaw was becoming obvious in her armor: Final Jeopardy. It had not been obvious to all but the closest observers, but she gotten eight of her last eleven Final Jeopardy’s incorrect. Because she was so dominant in all of those matches (she was averaging 40 correct responses a game for much of her run) she had runaway with every game by Final Jeopardy. The only cost has come to her final total, and while those wagers were huge — $20,000 to $25,000 was not an uncommon sum — as long as she continued to win, it was irrelevant. While in this ‘funk’ she had managed two paydays of $71,000 and just yesterday $63,000. But all of this served to underscore just how vital it was she needed to win in a walk.

And today, that Achilles heel came for her. It didn’t seem that way immediately as she faced off against Rhone Talsma and Janice Hawthorne Timm, though she did get off to a slightly slower start than usual. She finished the Jeopardy round with $7200. Both Rhone and Janice were competitive — Rhone had $3400, Janice $2000 — but in so many of Amy’s previous wins, she had come on to utterly dominate in Double Jeopardy.

And indeed Double Jeopardy did seem initially that it would be more of the same for the majority of the round. With Double Jeopardy nearly over Amy had $24,000 to Rhone, her nearest opponent’s $7800. Then he found the Daily Double in the category OMG! He saw the score, and knowing what he was up against made it a true Daily Double: “The Greek goddesses of vengeance are called the Eumenides, better known as these, a word from Latin.” Rhone knew it was: “What are the Furies?” and the game was changed. When Double Jeopardy ended not long after, Rhone had $17,600 to Amy’s $27,600, the first time in nearly two weeks that she didn’t have a runaway.

The Final Jeopardy category was COUNTRIES OF THE WORLD. “The only nation in the world whose name in English ends in an H, it’s also one of the 10 most populous.” Rhone was the only contestant who could come up with an answer at all, and it was the correct one: “What is Bangladesh?” He added $12,000 to his total. Amy had no guess at all, and it cost her $8000 and ending — for the second time this season — one of the most impressive runs in Jeopardy history.

Will Rhone put up an impressive run of his own? It’s not entirely impossible that he will. When Matt Amodio was dethroned this past October, the man who defeated him Jonathan Fisher had a fairly remarkable run of 11 wins and just over a quarter of a million dollars. Small in comparison to Matt and Amy, to be sure, but still a figure that to this point only fourteen other players in Jeopardy history had managed to get that far.

Barely six months removed from a scandal that looked like it might well turn Jeopardy into a laughingstock, Season 38 is turning into one of the greatest ones in the show’s entire history. Not even at the hundred game mark, there has only been a single week so far that there has not been a champion who would win at least five games. Two of the greatest players in game show history have competed, each winning well over a million dollars. Six players have already qualified for this years Tournaments Champions (Amodio, Schneider, Fisher, Hi, Tyler Rhode who won five games and Sam Buttrey, the winner of the first ever Professors Tournament) At this point in Season 38, more people have qualified for this year’s Tournament of Champions then did in the entirety of Season 37 and that is before the College Championship (scheduled for this February) and the Teachers Tournament have even taken place. To say that the upcoming Tournament of Champions, whenever it happens, will be eagerly anticipated by fans is a humungous understatement.

And its clear enthusiasm for the series is at least as high as it was in the Alex Trebek era. The overall ratings for the series the past several months are listed as up six percent compared to this time last year. As I have said on repeated occasions fans of Jeopardy care more about the game than who ends up hosting. These figures would seem to validate that opinion.

I should also that Jennings and Mayim Bialik are both doing a superb job as guest hosts of the show. I was particularly impressed by Jennings’ modesty and deference to Amy throughout her remarkable run. I will confess, if I were in the position he was in with a player approaching a record that Alex Trebek has said on multiple occasion would stand forever, I don’t know if I could have managed the modesty and professionalism that Jennings managed throughout her entire run. I can imagine this was interesting chance of déjà vu for him during his original run with Alex Trebek. During that same period Alex said he had gotten into a position that he felt he could read Ken’s mind. Now Jennings’ know what it looks like from the other side of the mirror. And he was just as measured and polite as he was as a winner. (That said when there is another super-tournament in a few years — and it now seems certain there will be — maybe reconsider going up against them to defend your title? Pretty please?)

When everything hit the fan with Mike Richards after last season, the question everyone was asking was: Could Jeopardy survive? I think it’s pretty clear now the answer is a resounding yes. In what will be its first full season with no Alex Trebek at all, Jeopardy has more than proven that it is just engaging, fun and thrilling as it has ever been. The studio where Jeopardy is shot was named for Alex Trebek before the year began, and right now the show, the hosts and the contestants have more than proven worthy of it. I’ve rarely been so proud to be a Jeopardy fan.

P.S. I knew tonight’s Final Jeopardy answer too.

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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.

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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.