But There Is A Light at The End of the Tunnel If Fans Are Patient Enough
At what is essentially the quarter mark of Season 40 of Jeopardy, it’s fair to say that quite a few devotees of the show are beginning to feel, shall we say, frustrated. I think how you view the frustrations might depend on how long you’ve been watching the show and it can be summed up between how the long-term viewer might think of it and the short term one (let’s say ten years or less) might think of it.
The viewer who has been watching the show for more than a long time, say someone who remembers when the Jeopardy round dollar figures were $100 to $500 and that there was a cap on five games, might be willing to look at this as a test of their faith. Noah building the Ark, Moses wandering in the desert, the struggle of Job, basically any Old Testament figure. The less secular fans might view it as having the patience of Penelope, waiting for the return of Odysseus or Hercules having to go through his labors. The end result will be if we just watch the show and wait long enough, our patience will be rewarded.
The more short term viewer — maybe someone who has only been watching since James Holzhauer showed up — might well view this as the experience of having to go through a Lifetime movie. We all know the formula: the heroine falls in love with someone who sweeps them off their feet, they enter into a whirlwind courtship and they either move in together or get married. Now they have entered the main action where they learn their partner is emotionally or psychologically abusive and forcing them to endure endlessly exhausting test. We are at the point where the best friend has intervened for the second or third time and is yelling at time: “Why do you stay with him? Can’t you see what he’s doing to you?” And the heroine just looks at them and tearfully says: “He’s only doing it because he loves me.”
I am, as anyone who has read these columns know, in the former category but I have to say that I’m more inclined to sympathize with those who might be willing to think is the latter one. Considering that after sixty games we are still in this ‘postseason’ of Jeopardy I am beginning to think whether the producers have decided to do this out of some emotional testing of their entire fanbase; that in fact, is not out of the common of long term emotional damage. I’m not quite on the side of those who claim that we are in Tournament hell, but Tournament purgatory that I’m more than willing to go along with.
As you who have read this column also know, even before the concept of the postseason was playing out, I thought that every aspect of it was a horrible idea that basically went against every principle Jeopardy had spent the last thirty eight years establishing. I thought the Second Chance Tournament was a terrible idea when it first played out last year. The fact the show essentially decided to double down on it at the start of this season did not make me any happier.
While I admit the Wild Card Tournament is at least based in a more rational idea — inviting back 1 to 3 time players from Seasons 37 and 38 — that still does not make it a better idea or the execution any less excruciating. I knew that spending what amounts to a full quarter of the season was too much for any rational person to deal with and I was certain it would test the patience of the most devoted fans and the most recent ones. I’m not shocked or happy that in recent weeks I’ve been proven right.
I don’t deny that many, if not all, of the games have had a fair amount of excitement, that many of the players have not been endearing and that many of the finishes have been thrilling. It does not change the fact that we’ve spent a full quarter of the season all so that three slots in the 2024 Tournament of Champions have finally been filled. The fact that we have spent the last two months essentially having a bunch of players who over the last thirty eight years would not have even been thought of being invited to a Tournament of Champions at any other time in the shows history makes it worse, as well the fact that the two of the winners — Emily Sands of the Diamonds Leg and Josh Saak of the Spades Leg — were three game winners who in any other year (including for the record the 2021 Tournament of Champions) could just have been let in and no one would have blinked an eye. Indeed each of them in their three games won more money than Michael Falk, who won three games in the 2005–2006 season and then went on to win the Tournament of Champions a month later. In both the cases of Sands and Saak, we seem to have run twice as far to get to the same place.
Worse is the fact that Tuesday’s winner of the Clubs leg Nick Cascone won exactly one game. This is only negligibly better than last year when two winners of the Second Chance Tournament earned the right to compete in the Tournament of Champions. In the sense that one is more than zero, it’s an improvement but it goes against every rule the last several decades have stood for.
And to be clear, the end is far from in sight. As soon as this Wild Card Tournament gets finished in a couple of weeks, we’re going to have to go through the whole thing again in some form for the players of Season 39! It was clear they were scraping the bottom of the barrel to come up with Second Chance qualifiers for the first group; how the hell are they going to find nine players in one season? God help us if they try to extend it beyond that.
And how many players are they going to invite for the Wild Card Tournament for Season 39? The only comfort is that it’s not going to take nearly as long because it’s one season instead of 2 this time. But even then they admit it’s going to take at least another month to get through it. We will have ended 2023 without having seen a single regular season game.
And then, after all that, we will finally get to the Tournament of Champions — which is, lest we forget, the reason we’ve been stuck in Tournament Hell in the first place. Despite the labor stoppage in Hollywood, Jeopardy decided that Season 40 must go on even though the writers, Mayim Bialik and the participants in the upcoming Tournament of Champions said that they would not cross a picket line. Sensible people might have decided that the best thing to do was to wait until the strike was over (in order to appease both the studios and the fans) or at worst, keep on doing regular season games until the strike ended. But apparently the sensible people left Jeopardy when they decided the Second Chance Tournament was a good idea in the first place.
And because of their maddening commitment not merely to expanding the Tournament of Champions to 21 players and to keeping the postseason going, we have the hell were going through right now. The fact that Tournament seemed built more out of necessity and so many other circumstances did not seem to occur to the show’s producers who seem to be only looking forward and not back. How exactly they will do a traditional tournament format with 21 participants instead of fifteen or eighteen is beyond me; there are no Amy Schneider’s or Matt Amodio’s this season, only the equivalent of a Mattea Roach. The fact that same set up ended up hurting the chances of two of those super-winners might have been considered an argument to go back to normal but again that is not what the producers seem interested in doing. At this point they have reversed the Red Queen’s Race, going twice as slow to arrive in the same place. Whether or not the fans will have had the patience to keep up with them does not seem to have entered Jeopardy’s minds, but then again there is not a single part of this that seems designed to make anybody who has watched the show for an extended or brief period, happy. Who is supposed to make happy is beyond me; it certainly hasn’t help the show.
But that said, there may yet be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Now that the Jeopardy Masters is in fact about to come back for a second season and hopefully more, many have wondered who will return to face off in it. The three players who are going to appear were the finalists in the 2023 Tournament: James Holzhauer, Matt Amodio and Mattea Roach, three of the greatest Jeopardy players in history. But who will the other three be?
We are about to get an answer to that question. Coming up in 2024 will be the Jeopardy Invitational Tournament. While the terms are still vague the description is very promising: “exceptional players from the show’s past competing to earn a spot in the next Jeopardy Masters Tournament.”
Now if you are a long time fan of the show (like me) or you loved the Jeopardy Masters Tournament earlier this year (and judging from both the online response and the ratings, there are plenty of you who do) this idea cannot help but fill you with joy. Any chance to see some of the greatest Jeopardy players of all time automatically fills the true fan’s heart with celebration. And considering the legacy of great players from even the post 5-game era (which will cover the last twenty years) would be the kind of thing any fan of the show would delight in.
And indeed having written by share of articles about who should appear in the next Masters Tournament, the Invitational Tournament is a democratic choice. A Jeopardy great over the past twenty years often wonders if they will ever be invited back to play the game they love again and the fan has been blessed by seeing this happen. Considering that my fondest memories of the show are these tournaments I’d love to see all the players I suggested come back — and trust me, those were merely the tip of a very big iceberg.
Just as inspiring is the possibility that as long as the Masters is successful, the Invitational might become part of the roster as well. Considering that the Tournament of Champions is usually the highlight of the season with its chance to look at the recent glorious players of the past, the idea of having one that goes back to the more distant past is something that I think both old and new fans of the show would enjoy equally. For old fans, it would be a chance to keep going down memory lane with some of their fonder memories. For fans who have started watching the show only recently, it would be a glimpse to look at the players who came before they started watching and demonstrate again how great they were. For every Jeopardy fan, this would be the kind of Celebrity Tournament they would eagerly look forward too.
There’s also the presence of Ken Jennings would have the same factor we saw demonstrated so well at both last year Tournament of Champions and the Masters Tournament. There would be sense of nostalgia because I imagine quite a few from the invitees have played against Ken over the years and the banter would be even more fun than it was between Ken and James Holzhauer the first time out. They could also share some of their fondest memories of Alex Trebek in a way that most of them can appreciate in a way that would be moving and profound. Just as with naming the stage for Alex Trebek, this would be just as good a way to keep his memory alive.
Finally for all of us who are enduring this hell, it’s worth noting that all of this shall pass. The Second Chance Tournament and Wild Card Tournament that came were, as we know, an alternate strategy in case the WGA strike lasted longer than it did. When it ended in late September, the show had committed to its strategy and knew that while this might be a drag on the viewer, it would also be unfair for the contestants that they had invited back. They also had to have the writers refill the clue vault so that the next set of players did get a fresh set of clues going forward. Indeed, the repetition is notable even if it is only clear to the longtime fan like myself.
So it is likely everything we have gone through the last several months and will have to endure for quite a bit longer is the inevitable consequence of resolution. Both long and short term viewers might think of themselves as Eurydice and the postseason as Orpheus, and we are being led out of Hades and back to normality. We will not look back when this is all over; let’s hope the show’s producers choose not to do the same.