The Gambler Couldn’t Go Over 21
At the beginning of last night’s Jeopardy game, with more foresight than he could possibly have had, Ken Jennings’ pointed out that Cris Panullo’s impressive 21 game winning streak was due, in large part, to his track record on Daily Double. To that point, he had found 48 of the 63 Daily Doubles on his run and his impressive wagers and good fortune on them had been responsible for winning nearly three-quarters of a million dollars, fifth all time on the list of money won.
But those who live by the Daily Double perhaps inevitably must die by it. And such was the case for Cris in last night’s game. It did not seem that way for the Jeopardy round. Admittedly, his chance to build up a sizable lead was hampered by finding the Daily Double on the very first clue he chose and as a result he was not able to build up the usual enormous lead he has done so often in his run over challengers Meghan Mello and Andy Tirrell. Still, he finished the round as he has so often: in first place. This time, he had ‘only’ $7400 to Meghan’s $4200 while Andy, who spent the entirety of the round in the hole was at -$1000.
Andy managed to get out of the hole on the first clue of the round. Cris managed to get three of the first six clues correct and was at $10,400 when he found the first Daily Double in BLOOD, SWEAT & TEARS. He did what he had done so many times before: bet very big $6600. This time, it worked against him:
“Blood, sweat and tears all contain this metallic element, the 6th most abundant in the earth’s crust.” Cris paused for a long time before guessing: “What is…iron?” In fact, it was sodium and Cris found himself in a place he had rarely, if ever, been in Double Jeopardy — trailing.
Then Andy began an impressive streak of his own. He managed to get up to $7400 and got to the second Daily Double before Cris did. The category was 7 LETTER ‘W’ORDS. He bet half his total:
“Part of a famous quote, this word is on the upper left of Karl Marx’ tombstone.”
Andy paused before guessing: “What is workers?”
Workers of the world, unite. He jumped ahead to $11,100.
Cris, however, had no intention of going quietly. He and Andy went back and forth for the lead throughout the rest of the round: it changed eight times between them during Double Jeopardy. And indeed, the round finished as it almost inevitably had for every previous match in Cris’ run: with Cris ahead. But the margin was barely a hair’s breadth: Chris had $12,600 to Andy’s $11,900 which meant that Meghan, who’d struggled in Double Jeopardy, was still alive with $4200.
The category for Final Jeopardy was PLAYS. “A 1609 story in which an exiled king of Bulgaria created a sea palace with magic may have inspired the plot of this play.”
Meghan couldn’t come up with an answer, but she had bet nothing. Andy had the correct response: “What is The Tempest?” Andy had wagered $3401, which put him at $15,399.
Cris is a professional poker player and every Final Jeopardy; his poker face keeps us from knowing what he feels about his Final Jeopardy response. This time, it covered a failure because his response was: “What is The Little Mermaid?” His wager of $11,201 was almost irrelevant because Andy was already ahead. Cris was as noble in defeat as he has been understated in victory: he turned to Andy, applauded, and gave a congratulatory fist bump to the man who had unseated him.
At 21 wins and $748,286, Cris is now in sixth place all time on the leader board for most consecutive wins by a Jeopardy champion. Those of us who watched the show last year are aware that three of the people ahead of him — Mattea Roach, Matt Amodio and Amy Schneider — had their impressive runs this past season. Cris remains in fifth place on the money won leaderboard behind Amodio, Schneider, Holzhauer and of course Jennings’ himself. Just for fun, let’s see where Cris finished in comparison to the four players ahead of him in money won at this point in their runs:
Cris Panullo: $748,286
Amy Schneider: $806,000
Matt Amodio: $740,001
James Holzhauer: $1,608,627
Ken Jennings: $697,760
Once again, Holzhauer makes even the greatest of the great look like dwarves in comparison to him. He’s basically even with Amodio, ahead of Jennings’ (whose relatively modest total I explained in the article I wrote on him Friday) and trailing Schneider.
As for the list of runaway games, which I listed in some detail on Friday as well, let’s compare at 21 Games for all involved:
Cris Panullo: 17
Ken Jennings: 16
James Holzhauer: 19
Matt Amodio: 17
Amy Schneider: 19
Based on these comparisons, Cris Panullo has to be considered one of the greatest Jeopardy champions of all time, a list that seems to keep getting longer the last few years in particular.
Cris will, of course, return next year or perhaps later, for the next Tournament of Champions. As anyone who watched this year’s Tournament, it remains to be seen just how well he well end up doing, a lesson that Matt Amodio and Mattea Roach learned in particular last month. And considering that the season is barely a quarter over (Cris has been around for more or less a third of the games already played) there is always the possibility the next super champion is waiting just around the corner. For all we know Andy Tirrell may end up being that very next player or at least another Jonathan Fisher or Eric Ahasic. (There were last year, in fact, may Tournament of Champions participants who qualified after defeating another participant, but its not worth listing them all again to buttress my point.)
Before the end of the calendar year, I will write one more piece on Jeopardy to summarize Season 39 so far, though given everything we’ve witnessed in the past two months alone, it’s crystal clear we’re very much still in Peak Jeopardy.