Eight Days The Latest Jeopardy Champion
Stephen Webb’s Run On Jeopardy Wasn’t As Good Some Recent Ones. That Doesn’t Mean He Doesn’t Have A Future on the Show
When Stephen Webb officially qualified for the Tournament of Champions last Monday, it looked like he had the gift of the all-time greats. Looking near the end of Double Jeopardy like he was going to lost in a runaway, he managed to regain enough money in the last few clues of the game to have more than half his challenger Roy Camara’s total. When he was the only player to come up with a correct Final Jeopardy answer, he managed to win $38,400, very close to his biggest total in his first five games. It looked like he was just getting warmed up.
But in hindsight, the warning signs were there. In his previous four wins, he had managed to find at least one Daily Double in each game and make them pay off. From that point forward, he never found another Daily Double. The next three games would end up being victories more due to the lack of success his fellow challengers would find in Daily Doubles. This would be crystal clear in the Double Jeopardy round of Game 6. Challenger Long Nguyen had been making a serious run and Stephen in Double Jeopardy. He was at $12,400 when he found the second Daily Double in the category SCRAMBLED U.S. HISTORY, in which he had already gotten the previous three responses correct. With a chance to take the lead away from Stephen, he bet everything but could not come up with an anagram that led to THE MONROE DOCTRINE. As a result, Stephen finished the game with a runaway though only with $16,000. That was crucial because of how Final Jeopardy went.
The category was COUNTRIES OF THE WORLD. “Part of the largest contiguous land empire during the 1200s and 1300s, today it’s the world’s second largest landlocked country. Both Stephen’s opponents knew the clue referred to Mongolia. Stephen wrote down Mongolia, crossed it out and put down Kazakhstan, which is the largest landlocked country in the world. It cost him nothing, but it was an omen of how Final Jeopardy would end up going the remainder of the week.
Wednesday’s win would end up being a relatively low scoring affair in the Jeopardy round. In Double Jeopardy, each of his opponents found one of the Daily Doubles. But by that point Stephen already had a significant lead and would get enough clues correct that neither of them could catch up to him. He finished Double Jeopardy with another runaway game. No one got Final Jeopardy correct, so he won another $20,000.
His eighth game was essentially a back and forth battle with challenger Sarah Matthews. The Jeopardy rounded ended with her at $9000 to his $8000. In Double Jeopardy, Stephen would quickly sweep the category SCIENTIFIC LAWS AND THEOREMS (he’s a data scientist and would dominate nearly every science category in the game). Sarah retook the lead when she found the first Daily Double; Stephen took it back on the next clue and would maintain it despite Sarah finding the second Daily Double and responding correctly on the penultimate clue of the round. The two of them were the only ones left at the end of Double Jeopardy; Stephen with $22,400, Sarah with $17,600.
The Final Jeopardy category dealt with 1980s MOVIES. “A writer and producer of this movie said he wanted it to be like a Western or James Bond film, “only it takes place in the ‘30s.” Neither contestant came up with Raiders of the Lost Ark and while Stephen won, it was by far his lowest payday with $9599.
From the start of the Jeopardy round of Friday’s game, it looked very much like this was the end of the road for Stephen. Challenger Kelly Barry got off to a quicker start them him, his other challenger Mark Bernstein found the Daily Double in the Jeopardy round ahead of him, and it was only because he bet everything on the Daily Double and it went wrong that Stephen went into second place, where he would be the round ended. In Double Jeopardy Stephen would not be able to ring until the ninth clue of the round. Mark found both Daily Doubles, one put him into contention, the other took him right back out of it. When Kelly got the $2000 and $1600 clues incorrect in THE CARRIBBEAN, it opened a window for Stephen which he walked through; by the end of Double Jeopardy he had a narrow lead over Kelly with $12,600 to her $11,600. Mark was still in there with $4000.
Final Jeopardy was a variation on an old standard: STATEHOOD. “Congress relented in 1890 after this prospective state said it would wait 100 years rather than come in without the women.” Mark wrote down: “What is Wisconsin?” and lost half his money. Kelly wrote down the correct response: “What is Wyoming?” (The Equality State; the first to allow all women the right to vote.” She gained $3000. Mark however had written it’s neighbor: “What is Colorado?” He would lose $10,601, dropping him to $1999 and third place. This made Kelly the new champion with $14,600.
Stephen’s eight wins and $184,881 would be an impressive number of wins and money even five years ago. In the post Alex-Trebek, super-champion era, it does not look particularly impressive. It’s only the third highest number of games won this season and considering that Troy Meyer managed to win $214,802 in six games a little more than two months ago, it almost seemed meager in comparison in the era where we now seem used to players winning ten or eleven games and around $300 to $400,000 at a minimum. However when one looks say, at the contestants from the 2021 Tournament of Champions as a comparison, it’s actually a fairly impressive number.
Leaving aside Jason Zuffranieri, whose $532,496 in nineteen games now seems positively modest in comparison to the last couple of years, the second place finishers were three female champions each of whom won eight games: Karen Farrell, Jennifer Quail, and Mackenzie Jones. (Quail made it to the finals before losing to Sam Kavanaugh). And of those three eight game winners, Stephen actually won quite a bit more money than Karen, who won ‘only’ $159,603. Furthermore, his eight games won and cash won would be more than all the competitors in the 2019 Tournament of Champions (of course, that means ignoring the Holzhauer in the room.)
And as any recurring fan of the show knows, a modest win total does not count you out against opposition who seems more qualified. Ben Ingram managed to emerge victorious over the controversial but exceptional Jeopardy player Arthur Chu and twenty game winner Julia Collins in a hard fought 2014 Tournament of Champions. In 2017, a determined (but clowning) Buzzy Cohen came from a distance third to defeat the clownish (but exceptional) Austin Rogers in the Finals of that Tournament. And we have seen just this past year just how much Andrew He put Amy Schneider through her paces before she managed to come out the victor.
So yes, Stephen’s eight games and total cash won may seem a bit modest to those of us who have spent the last couple of years. But that does not mean he is not a great player or that he may be a threat to those super-champions down the line. He may ‘merely’ be a very good Jeopardy champion. It doesn’t mean we should underestimate him.