Another ‘Long’ Jeopardy Run Comes To An End
Assessing Ryan Long’s Winning Streak Among the List Of Jeopardy Super-Champions
Like all great winners on Jeopardy, a streak must come to an end. Such was the case for Ryan Long, the fifth Jeopardy contestant this season to win more than ten games. Ryan had won sixteen consecutive games on Jeopardy as of Monday night, the eighth highest total in the history of the show since players were allowed to win until they were defeated. But almost from the start of last night’s game, it looked like Ryan’s luck was running out.
From the start of the Jeopardy round, Ryan struggled against challengers Eric Ahasic and Stephanie Garrison. Before the commercial break, his early lead disappeared after two consecutive incorrect responses took $1200 from his score. Then just when he had managed to regain the lead, a Daily Double in the category NON-MEDICAL DOCTORS went against him, and he dropped into second place, never to regain it. Still when the round ended, he was well within striking distance of Eric with $2400 to his $3600.
But in Double Jeopardy, where Ryan had managed to turn things around in so many previous wins, didn’t go his way. Eric found the first Daily Double early in the Jeopardy round and made it pay for him in a big way. It took him until the tenth clue of the round to get a correct response again for $2000 and then one clue later he got a $2000 clue wrong. He was unable to ring for almost all of the remainder of the round, and it was only due to a very late run in the category ANTHROPOLOGY that he was able to get within striking distance of the lead. He finished Double Jeopardy somewhere he’d never been in his sixteen previous games: third place with $6800. Still, he might have been able to pull it out if things had gone right for him in Final Jeopardy.
The category was GREEK MYTHOLOGY: “Of the Argonauts seeking the Golden Fleece, these two from the same family were from Sparta according to homer.” Ryan guessed: “Who are Agamemnon and Menelaus?” which was wrong. It cost him everything but a $1. A few seconds later Eric came up with the correct response: “Who are Castor and Pollux?” He became the new Jeopardy champion with $18,401, and Ryan’s streak ended at $16 games and $299,400.
Despite Ryan’s remarkable run, by comparison to the three other super-winners this year — Matt Amodio, Amy Schneider and Mattea Roach — he doesn’t rank nearly at their level. However, when you compare Ryan’s track record to the other Jeopardy champions that have won as many games as he has, he compares unfavorable not only to them, but quite a few that won less.
Obviously comparing him to Ken Jennings and James Holzhauer would be unfair, as they were playing at a level that almost no Jeopardy player has. However compared to the players who have won more games then him to this point, he doesn’t look much better. Take the three players immediately ahead of him, Julia Collins with 20 wins and David Madden and Jason Zuffranieri at 19. Here’s what their totals were after sixteen wins:
Julia Collins: $337,000
David Madden: $378,700
Jason Zuffranieri: $437,096
Ryan Long: $299,700
And it doesn’t look much better compared to some of the players who won fewer games than Ryan. The sample size is not that big, but it’s telling:
Matt Jackson, 13 Games: $411,612
Austin Rogers, 12 Games: $411,000
Seth Wilson, 12 Games: $265,002
Arthur Chu, 11 Games: $297,200
Jonathan Fisher, 11 Games: $246,100
No matter how you slice Ryan looks pretty much to be at the bottom of the list of every player who’s managed to win at least eleven games in Jeopardy history.
What does this say about Ryan as a player? Honestly that he was one of the luckiest champions with a long streak. He managed to come from behind to win his first game, in case you’ve forgotten. The lion’s share of his matches were extremely competitive, he had two games in his streak where he had to come from behind Final Jeopardy to win, and he only had six runaway matches in his entire run. In only two of those games did he get the correct answer in Final Jeopardy and his margin of error was so small he couldn’t profit much from it. All the rest he gave an incorrect response in Final Jeopardy and it ended up costing him big.
Indeed, his track record in Final Jeopardy wasn’t particularly impressive as a Jeopardy champion: in his seventeen games played, he only got seven of them correct. What’s more, five of them were in his first six matches as a player which means there was a lot of luck involved in the rest of his victories. Last Wednesday, no one got Final Jeopardy correct and the only reason he won was because he wagered conservatively in Final Jeopardy. In another, his win was dependent on his nearest opponent getting Final Jeopardy wrong. And in another, he was technically in a lock-tie game which could have gone against him if his nearest opponent had gotten the correct response in Final Jeopardy — which he did not.
Now anyone who’s watched Jeopardy for an extended period of time knows that luck is just as important as skill when it comes to winning — not just that of the winner but how fortune favors your opponents on everything from the set up of the board to what Daily Double they get wrong — or right. So the fact that Ryan Long has been an extremely lucky Jeopardy player doesn’t mean he isn’t also a very skilled Jeopardy player. And just because he’s been the least successful Jeopardy champion in Season 38 doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have a great future in Jeopardy — there are countless examples throughout the history of the Tournament of Champions where a player who might not seem the best of his season ends up winning the Tournament. Considering the number of excellent players who have already qualified for next fall’s tournament, a lot of luck will be involved fighting it out for the $250,000 grand prize — something, I should add, that none of the players who I listed as ostensibly being superior to Ryan, never managed to achieve. Indeed, of the six players I listed, only three of them even managed to get as far as the finals.
If you ever needed more evidence that this season of Jeopardy is the best time to be watching the series, Ryan Long’s streak would confirm it. And considering how down to the wire most of his matches were, you can argue Ryan’s games were the most exciting of the champions this year to watch. (Though I’m positive Ryan would have preferred more than a few dull ones.) The season has less than two months to run. Will one more champion be added to the list of the all-time greats? We’ll have to see.