Halfway Through Season 40 of Jeopardy, We’re On The Verge of Getting to The Good Part

David B Morris
10 min readFeb 17, 2024

A Primer For The Upcoming Tournament of Champions

Jeopardy fans, his return is imminent.

Yes I know Jeopardy fans. Tonight marks the official halfway point of Season 40 and we have yet to emerge from postseason hell. But the light at the end of the tunnel is finally beginning to appear.

In exactly one week the long, long, long awaited Tournament of Champions is finally going to occur. And it seems that there is going to be yet another format change, though at least the show has spent the last several months prepping us for it.

This year the Tournament of Champions will apparently follow the format of Champions Wild Card. We will have twenty-seven players who will meet in nine quarterfinal games. The nine winners will then face off in three semi-final matches and then we will have a two game total point affair resulting in a winner, who will receive a $250,000 and, nearly as importantly, a spot in the upcoming Jeopardy Masters Tournament which will be coming in just a few months. (I’ll be dealing with that when I get more information.)

By this point, the average Jeopardy fan could be forgiven if they had forgotten the names of some of the participants. There were far fewer super-champions this past season and as some fans might recall, there were only fourteen apparent qualifiers at the end of Season 39. Well apparently, Jeopardy has decided to go back to its original point of allowing three game winners from Season 39 to participate in the upcoming Tournament. (Of course, if they’d just done that before, as well as had their College Championship and Professors Tournament…no, we’ll save that for another article.) One last slot remains to be filled, the winner of the final leg of the Season 39 Wild Card, which we will learn on Thursday night. So with that in mind, here are the 25 players who will be participating starting next week, along with some highlights from their original appearances. I will proceed chronologically.

Luigi de Guzman, 5 Game Winner, $140,700

A freelance writer from Baltimore, Luigi won the final game of Season 38 and the first four of Season 39. Two of his five victories were runaways and his most impressive win, which netted him $42,400 took place on the first day the show was filmed before a full studio audience. He played impressively and was actually ahead in his sixth appearance before being defeated by…

Emmett Stanton, 3 Game Winner, $72,600

Because of his cautious wagering Emmett, who was trailing going into Final Jeopardy went on to defeat Luigi and come from behind twice to win his next two games. He was defeated by Martha Bath, who had appeared in the Art Fleming version of the show half a century earlier. (She made it to the Semi-Finals of Group 1 of the 2024 Champions Wild Card before being defeating.

David Sibley, 4 wins, 78,098

An episcopal priest from Walla Walla, Washington David won three of his four victories in runaway games. He looked unbeatable. But on the fifth day he met with…

Cris Panullo, 21 Wins, $748,286

Cris’ is the only comparable player to any of the three super-champions we had in Season 38, and in 21 games he won considerably more than Mattea Roach did in 23. He was also basically even with Matt Amodio and not far behind Amy Schneider at that point in their runs. Ironically, his original run was interrupted by the 2022 Postseason but after a month away from the buzzer he showed no rust at all. I’d say he’s the heavy favorite going into the Tournament, but we saw what happened to Matt and Mattea last season.

Sean McShane, 3 Games, $80,401

Sean has Jeopardy in his blood. His cousin Dan McShane appeared on the show way back in 2012, winning four games and winning $62,001. Dan made it to the semi-finals of the 2013 Tournament of Champions where he would compete against Keith Whitener, Kristin Morgan and Colby Burnett, all of whom would eventually become Finalists. (Colby won.)

Sean managed to win more money than his cousin but fewer games. However, he also has the credit of having faced off another superb champion in what would be his first win.

Ray LaLonde, 13 wins, $386,400

Ray managed an impressive streak by Jeopardy standards over the course of Season 39, though by the standards of players who’ve only been watching the last two years, only a middling one. 13 wins is an impressive number and he very quickly became a beloved fan-favorite during his time. Many of his wins were not runaways, Ray had to fight for many of them.

Ray is also admired for, when Jeopardy started filming this summer, saying that he would not cross the picket line. (He works in film and television and was in support of the WGA and SAG-AFTRA.) His fellow champions agreed with him and the Tournament of Champions had to be delayed as a result. (I wonder if Ken will bring this up.)

Yogesh Raut, 3 games, $96,403

And here we see the Jeopardy producers being the bigger people. Yogesh publicly bad-mouths them on the internet and becomes the most controversial Jeopardy champion since Arthur Chu. Fellow Jeopardy players champions attack him for his comments. Jeopardy’s producers take the high road, say they’ll welcome him back to the stage — and now they’ve invited him back to the Tournament of Champions. Will he be booed when he plays in his quarterfinal match? I almost hope so.

Troy Meyer, 6 wins, $214,802

It says something for where Jeopardy is these days that when a player like Troy has the kind of run that would have been one of the best even five years ago, it’s barely noticed. He averages more than $35,000 wins a game but because he only won six games, it doesn’t get the credit it should. Of course he might have gotten further were it not for…

Jake DeArruda, 3 games, $68,601

A delivery dispatcher from Vermont, Jake bears the dubious distinction of winning all three of his games and not getting a correct Final Jeopardy in any of them. To be fair, neither could anyone else. His bad luck continued in Final Jeopardy in his fourth appearance, but this time Patti Palmer got Final Jeopardy right. If he doesn’t do better in Final Jeopardy this time, his run’s going to be very short.

Matthew Marcus, 4 wins, $114, 200

Matthew won his first game the day after Jake lost and he won big: $42,400. He played exceptionally for all four wins that came after. He is also known for his admiration for Oscar Wilde, which led to some controversy on his fourth match, which was irrelevant to his winning the game. But a wager in his fifth math on a Daily Double dropped him out of contention behind Dan Wohl, and he went home after five.

Brian Henegar, 3 wins, $68,202

Poor Brian had the misfortune of earning the hatred of Jeopardy fans because he has a mustache that makes him look like Hitler. Worse, he actually was the punchline on SNL on one of the last show’s they did before the Writer’s Strike. He was actually ahead going into Final Jeopardy for Game 4 but the clue was a tough one that no one got right and his wager put him second place. I look forward to seeing you Brian. I hope you kept the mustache.

Stephen Webb, 8 wins, $184,881

Stephen’s total is better than it looks. Six of his eight victories were runaways but in many of them he either got Final jeopardy incorrect or didn’t have a lot of room to maneuver in his routs. He won two very impressive come from behind wins but neither got noticed as much. I actually think he could go pretty far.

Justin Bolsen, Winner of the High School Reunion Tournament

The only ‘special’ tournament to take place during Season 39 Justin, a semi-finalist in the 2019 Tournament of Champions played extremely well in his quarterfinal match and kind of backed into winning his semi-final. Dropping behind at the end of Game 1 of the final, he came from behind to triumph in the final to win $100,000. Justin is the first former Teen Tournament Player to participate in any Tournament at all since Leonard Cooper played for Team Austin in the Jeopardy All-Star Games in 2019 — and like Cooper at the time, Justin is currently attending Brown.

Melissa Klapper 3 games $59,700

Melissa’s first victory game the day after Stephen Webb was defeated. She was very lucky to have a chance in Game 3: her challenger Karen Morris had an insurmountable lead when she found the last Daily Double, lost $10,000, which put Melissa back in contention. Karen got Final Jeopardy incorrect and Melissa was able to advance. Her luck ended after she got two Daily Doubles wrong and lost a total of $8000 on them. The Daily Double giveth and it taketh away.

Kevin Belle, 3 Games, $42,798

With Kevin I kind of think their stretching it. None of his three victories were particularly dominant and he got three of four Final Jeopardys wrong. Though, to his credit, he lost his third game to…

Hannah Wilson, 8 Games, $229,801

Like Amy Schneider, Hannah Wilson is a transgender woman, something that Amy made note of during her run. Hannah didn’t get nearly as far as Amy, but she was extremely good, winning four runaways and winning $40,000 twice. She might have gotten further had it not been for…

Ben Chan, 9 games, $252,600

Ben won three games in early April and then the next day wasn’t there. He was suffering from Covid and could not travel for an extended period. When he returned on Hannah’s 9th appearance, he picked up right where he left off, putting the exclamation point on a return the way he follows his name on the lectern.

All nine of his wins had been routs, which is Ken Jennings territory. Then in his tenth victory, he was in a close match for the first time against Lynn DeVito and controversy ensued. In a clue that had to deal with Shakespeare, Ben wrote down: “Who is Beatrice and Benedict?” Mayim Bialik responded it was unacceptable because the spelling was Benedick. The outrage from the net was vast even though Mayim was following the rules the show has had for forty years. They don’t penalize for misspelling unless it creates a different word, which is what happened here. Ben could go pretty far.

Jared Watson, 3 wins, $56,202

Jared played very well in his three wins, but got Final Jeopardy incorrect in his fourth and was defeated by…

Suresh Krishnan, 6 wins, $96,595

Suresh won six games and with one exception, didn’t really play well in any of them. The problem was neither did any of his opponents

Ben Goldstein, 5 Wins, $49,298

All right, now I get why Jared Watson is here. I’ve seen less impressive five game winners in Jeopardy but not many. Sorry, just being honest.

Now let’s deal with the four wild card players.

Josh Saak, SPADES

3 WINS, $66,405 in his original appearance. And considering Matt Amodio beat him I can see why they invited him back.

Emily Sands, Diamond

3 wins, $73,000 in Season 37. Under normal circumstances she’d have been invited back too.

Nick Cascone, CLUBS

Not entirely comfortable with a one game winner

Yungsheng Wang, Hearts

He was an alternate for the 2022 Tournament of Champions. Honestly he shouldn’t have had to fight to get here.

And finally:

Juveria Zaheer, Second Chance Winner, Wild Card Group 1

All right. Considering how dominant she was not only in her Second Chance wins but everything she did to get to the Wild Card and considering she lost to Hannah Wilson, I’m almost willing to rethink my opinion on the Second Chance Tournament.

Now there is one more player who has qualified technically, but I remain uncertain this individual will even show up. I will refrain from mentioning who he is until the Tournament actually happens.

For all the labor that has gone into it, I have to be honest I’m impressed even with the caliber of most of the Wild Card Winners. Many of the players in this tournament are genuinely very good at a collective level we rarely see in Tournaments of Champions. It may not have the same quantity of super-champions but there’s actually a more accurate balance then we usually get in these tournaments. Don’t get me wrong, I still believe that whenever the next Tournament of Champions takes place, the show should go back to the original format. But I have enough fond memories of this group of players to look forward to seeing them against each other and to see who comes out on top. I have my favorites, as do you all, but I also know that accounts to nothing after the first round of play. Anyway, I will get back to you on this subject when the Tournament of Champions is underway.

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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.