The Conclusion Of Matt Amodio’s Incredible Run Or, The Jeopardy Story The Media should Have focused on this past month
As I mentioned in an earlier article, so much focus of the past several weeks on Jeopardy has been over the controversy behind the scenes. The firing of Mike Richards, first as host, then as executive producer, the news that Mayim Bialik and Ken Jennings would be replacing him for the remainder of 2021 and the resumption of a search for a permanent host have dominated the entertainment cycle for the beginning of Season 38.
Almost –but not entirely –lost in the midst of this has been the incredible performance of Matt Amodio, who for the final weeks of Season 37 was quietly becoming one of the most dominant players in Jeopardy history. At the end of the season, he had surpassed Jason Zuffaneri, who in Season 35 and 36 had won 19 games and more than $535,000 to become third all time on the list of money-winners in their original run behind two minor players named James Holzhauer and Ken Jennings. When Season 38 started, the question was: how long could Matt keep the streak going?
And the answer was pretty long. On the third day of the season, he moved into third place behind Holzhauer and Jennings for most games won. Though he would take an approach Holzhauer had mastered in his run — starting at the bottom of the board and working his way across it — he followed a strategy closer to Ken Jennings when it came to Daily Doubles when he found them. He would wager big in the Jeopardy round, but if and when he found them and Double Jeopardy, his wagers would tend to be modest — not big enough to cost him the lead if he got them wrong, which sometimes did happen.
This combination would prove to make him one of the most effective players in the show’s history. Though he never came close to touching any of James Holzhauer’s one day records — his biggest payout was $80,000, still more than twenty thousand below one of Holzhauer’s — he almost inevitably in Final Jeopardy had lock games, usually with a lead so big none of his opponents could come within $10,000 of his total. Indeed, in his initial run, there were only five games he played where he didn’t have a runaway going into Final Jeopardy. The end result was a streak of 38 games, the second highest in Jeopardy history and a total of $1,518,601 by that point. In contrast, Jennings by this point in his Jeopardy career had only amassed $1.3 million.
But at some point in every players streak, your luck runs out. That happen yesterday evening against Jessica Stephens and Jonathan Fisher. It didn’t seem that way at first — by the first commercial break, Matt had gotten up to $7400 and while he slowed down a little, he finished the Jeopardy round with $9800 compared to Jessica’s $2400 and Jonathan’s $4000. And then in Double Jeopardy, for the first time in Matt’s run, everything just went wrong. Jessica started out by being particularly dominant in the category MEDICAL ABBREVIATIONS. Then Matt faltered on a clue in RECENT MOVIES and then in the $1600 and $2000 clues in the categories TALK LIKE A FARMER. Then just when it seemed like he was recovering, he bobbled a clue in the category IT DOESN’T MEAN WHAT IT SOUNDS LIKE which would enable Jonathan to get two Daily Doubles back to back and pull into the lead. By this point Matt was in a position he’d never been in at any time in Double Jeopardy, third place. And he was still in third place, albeit a close one when Double Jeopardy ended. He had $10,600 to Jessica’s $14,400 and Jonathan’s $14,600.
Final Jeopardy had been something of a problem for Matt even at his most successful. Twice it had cost him huge payouts and on at least one occasion, he could have lost the game had the third place player not been so far behind. Final Jeopardy dealt with COUNTRIES OF THE WORLD: “Nazi Germany annexed this nation and divided it into regions of the Alps and the Danube; the allies later divided it into four sectors.” Matt guessed: “What is Poland?” which was incorrect. He lost $5000. Both Jessica and Jonathan knew the correct answer: “What is Austria?” Jonathan earned the place in the record books as the man who dethroned Matt, winning $29,200.
None of this should take away anything from Matt’s accomplishments: he now has the second longest streak in Jeopardy history and is now only the third man to win more than $1 million in regular play. (He ranks fourth in total winnings behind, Holzhauer, Jennings and all-time money winner Brad Rutter.) And of course, as every follower of the series knows, we will see him in the Tournament of Champions next year when there are enough people to challenge for it. At the same time, this should emphasize just how impressive Jennings’ accomplishments truly are: this is the second time in less than two years that his streak has been challenged and neither challenger could get within half of Ken’s total. I’m actually a little sad Matt’s streak didn’t go on long enough until Jennings was hosting again; I really would have liked to see his reaction if that had happened.
And all of this does prove the point that I’ve been trying to make for the past several months: the game itself is larger than any single host. I guarantee that of the millions who tuned in the first month of Season 38 interest in how Matt did far superseded any interest in the problems behind the scenes. Now that Matt’s streak is over, fans like me will probably be asking: when will the next great Jeopardy champion emerge?
In the meantime, a small suggestion for when the next super tournament takes place (probably in recognition of Season 40) bring back all the players who have the longest winning streaks ever since the five game rule was abolished in 2003. Throw in Brad Rutter, as many of Tournament of Champions winners as are still alive and some of those who have been memorable in the tournament play. Hell, maybe even do it in prime time this time. Even if Ken Jennings isn’t participating, I guarantee you’ll have an audience — no matter who’s hosting