Jeopardy 2023 Tournament of Champions Finals Analysis
History is (Finally) Made
Editor’s Note: In my previous article on this subject, my listing of Jeopardy champions who had double digit winning streaks but had poor luck in the Tournament of Champions, I omitted Matt Jackson who won 13 games in Season 32. My original argument still holds true, however; Matt made it to the finals of the 2015 Tournament of Champions but was defeated — resoundingly -by Alex Jacob.
Many of the champions who have qualified for this year’s Tournament of Champions on Jeopardy have been among the most astonishing in the show’s nearly four decades on the air. So perhaps it is fitting that the finals for this tournament reflect the circumstances.
I wrote in the articles leading up to this that the finals for the tournament were a two-day total point affair, with the winner at the end of the second game winning the tournament. I was unaware, however, that the producers had changed the rules again. Modeling themselves after the Greatest of All Time tournament that aired in primetime in January of 2020, the finals of this tournament are what might be considered a best-of-seven affair, with the first player to win three games winning the grand prize of $250,000.
When I learned about this at the start of last week, I admit I had my doubts. The GOAT tournament commemorated James Holzhauer, Brad Rutter, and Jennings himself, and was done primarily to be a tribute to the ailing Alex Trebek who passed away that November. Watching at the time, I think the format was something of a disappointment but I accepted it more as a tribute to Alex. There was no sign of any change in the format in the last Tournament of Champions, so there didn’t seem any reason to do the same here. I think this may have been done with the implied idea that the three finalists would be Matt Amodio, Mattea Roach, and Amy Schneider. That seems hard to believe considering the show’s producer’s should know better by now, but I can’t think of any other reason they would so radically alter a format that’s worked just fine all these years.
However, having watched the finals I confess that I have changed my mind. I don’t believe this is so much precedent for future tournaments as a way of dealing with a very special year. I find it likely that in the next Tournament, Jeopardy will return to business as usual. But the finals, which extended into six games have proven themselves to be more than worth the buildup. The matches have been thrilling from beginning to end, remarkably evenly matched between the three competitors, and have ended with some of the toughest Final Jeopardys in the history of Jeopardy tournaments, leading to some of the most thrilling finishes in the show’s history. And though it took awhile together, it was finally won by the player who earned it.
Here is a play-by-play for the finals between Sam Buttrey, Andrew He and Amy Schneider.
The Jeopardy round of Game 1 started off fairly evenly with Sam getting off to a quick start. The mood changed in the middle of the round when Andrew found the Daily Double in THE SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE. Continuing a trend he had begun in the semi-final match that would become a recurring theme, he bet everything he had:
“You can go from ‘A’ to ‘Z’ crossing the 660-mile border between these 2 southern African countries.” Andrew hesitated before saying: “What are Angola and Zambia?” He doubled his score to $3600 and went into the lead. At the first commercial break, he’d still be ahead with $4400 to Sam’s $3000 and Amy’s $1400.
It didn’t last for long. Amy went on a mini-run in the second half and pulled ahead by the end. But it was a very close score: she had $5000 to Sam’s $4800 while Andrew had dropped to $4200.
In Double Jeopardy, Sam and Amy spent much of the first half of the round dividing the clues between them. Then Andrew managed to ring in on a clue in FOREIGN WORDS AND PHRASES and found the Daily Double immediately afterwards in POETRY. Trailing with $7800, he bet everything:
“’Thou singest of summer in full-throated ease”, Keats wrote in ‘Ode to’ this creature.” Andrew came up with a Nightingale and jumped into the lead.
Sam found the second Daily Double two clues later in FOREIGN WORDS AND PHRASES, and slightly behind Andrew decided to wager $6000. It didn’t go as well for him:
“A criminal who is caught red-handed is caught this way, “while the crime is blazing.’ Sam struggled, finally guessed: “What is corpus delicti?” It was actually in flagrante delicto. He dropped to $7200. Not long after that Amy managed to get four consecutive clues correct, including three of the remaining $2000 clues. Still Andrew had enough of a margin that he finished Double Jeopardy in the lead with $18,800. Amy was next with $14,600 and Sam was in good shape with $12,000.
The Final Jeopardy category was one that Ken was relatively sure had never been seen before: GEOGRA-FLEE. “In July 2022 the ousted president of this country fled west across the Indian Ocean to the Maldives.” Sam and Andrew knew the correct country: “What is Sri Lanka?” (Ken: Sri Lanka is just a bit southeast of the tip of India, the Maldives are right to the Southwest.) Amy apparently thought it might have Sri Lanka, but wrote down: “What is Indonesia?”
The wagers were more considered than they probably would be in a two-day total point affair. Sam bet nothing, leaving him at $12,000. Amy lost $10,000 dropping her to $4600. Andrew’s correct response guaranteed him a win, but he had bet enough to beat Amy by $1 had she been correct and wagered everything.
Winner Game 1: Andrew.
In the Jeopardy round Andrew went in the red early and managed to climb out by the first commercial break. All three players were on a fairly even level until Sam made a mistake in the historically tricky category JEPORTMANTEAU! For $600:
“Area in which law is enforced + a reference book.”
Sam thought it was ‘districtionary’, while Amy knew it was ‘jurisdictionary.” This put her into a tie with Andrew with $2800 at the commercial break.
Andrew managed to put some distance between him and Amy when he finally found the Daily Double in FACTS & FIGURES. Again he bet everything: “50% of our genes — 10,000 of 20,000 are regulated by this rhythm, from Latin for ‘about’ & ‘day’. He knew it was circadian and doubled his score to $7600. He finished the Jeopardy round with $9200 to Amy’s $4600 and Sam’s $2200.
In Double Jeopardy Amy would take an early lead when she found the first Daily Double in TALKING ECON’. She bet $4000: “The birth of economics as its own discipline is often traced to a 1776 work by this man.” Amy knew the answer: “Who is Adam Smith?” She went into the lead with $10,200.
She held that lead after a lot of struggling with the category FIRST-TIME RESPONSES. But then Andrew found the other Daily Double in A LITTLE PEACE OF HISTORY. Trailing her by just $200, he bet the $10,000 he had: “The 2006 Greentree Agreement, settling a fight by shifting a peninsula from Nigeria to Cameroon was brokered by this African.” Andrew thought before guessing: “Who is Annan?” (the former Secretary-General to the UN) He jumped to a big lead with $20,000.
The chances for Amy to anybody to catch up with Andrew were remote at that point and Amy didn’t, but she came incredibly close. Doing well in categories NOW STREAMING ON DuMONT + (a 1950s TV network) and LATE 20TH CENTURY BOOKS, she managed to finish the round only $1000 behind Andrew with $22,200 to his $23,200. Sam was in good shape with $9400.
The Final Jeopardy category was NAME’S THE SAME and it was tough. “Name shared by a Victorian novelist and an 1805 flagship captain whose name is heard in a famous phrase.” Andrew and Sam both wrote: “Who is Gridley?” Amy put down: “Who is Nelson?” Amy had the right idea. Lord Nelson’s last words were: “Kiss me, Hardy.” The man he was speaking to was named Thomas Hardy.
It came down to wagers. Sam bet nothing. Amy bet $1100, and Andrew bet $21,199. Amy had the most at the end.
Winner Game 2: Amy.
The Jeopardy round of Game 3 was by far the most evenly matched of the games to this point. Andrew dropped into the red early again in the game, and when he found the Daily Double in AMERICAN HISTORY, he didn’t have a lot to work with, so he bet the $1000 he could.
“At this New York battle in the fall of 1777, nearly 6,000 British troops surrendered to Colonial forces.” Andrew knew it was Saratoga and went to $1400. The game continued in a close fashion: in fact, there was actually a three way tie for first at one point. The Jeopardy round ended nearly as close: Amy and Andrew were tied at $3800, Sam had $3600.
Amy effectively gutted her chances early in the Double Jeopardy round. She found the first Daily Double in COMPOUND WORDS. At this point it was still very close, she was in the lead with $5800 and Andrew was in third with $5000. So she tried to break it open by betting $5000. It didn’t work out:
“A point of reference from which measurements are made, it was once an actual notch or line made on a permanent object.” She pondered a long time before guessing: “What is milestone?” It wasn’t. It was benchmark. She dropped to $800.
Much of the remainder of the round was dominated by Sam. He had gotten up to $12,400 when Andrew managed to find the other Daily Double in 4 WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL. With only $5800, betting everything seemed like a reasonable option: “On September 12, 1846, this pair of poets wed secretly at St. Marylebone Church; the bride lived with dad on Wimpole Street for another week.” He knew it was Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning and closed the gap by getting up to $11,600. But Sam managed to hold the margin and finished Double Jeopardy ahead with $14,800 to Andrew’s $13,200 while Amy loomed as spoiler with $2400.
The Final Jeopardy answers to Game 3 have met with some controversy going forward. The category was THE NEW TESTAMENT. “Paul’s letter to them is the New Testament epistle with the most Old Testament quotations.” Amy’s response of: “Who are the Hebrews?” was ruled correct. Sam’s response of: “Who are The Romans?” was ruled wrong. But there have been online challenges as to the veracity of the response, with some scholars saying that the latter book has more quotations.
The results were about the wagers. Amy bet nothing. Andrew (who wrote down: “Who are the Philippians?”) lost $3201. Sam bet big — $11,601. Andrew had the most money at the end of Final Jeopardy and notched his second win.
Winner Game 3: Andrew.
The Jeopardy round was pretty much dominated by Amy. She took a quick lead and was in charge pretty much from beginning to end, with $6200 at the commercial break and $10,200 by the end of it. Andrew was slow to get started and not even finding the Daily Double was able to put up much of a dent in Amy’s lead. Andrew was in second with $4000 and Sam trailed badly with $2400.
Double Jeopardy was Sam’s turn to shine. Trailing badly with $6000 when he found the first Daily Double, he brought laughter to the crowd when he said: “I’d like to bet the maximum amount required by law.” A couple of moments later he brought the crowd to their feet for a different recent.
The category was FAR OUT: “Once matter enters a black hole, it falls to the center and concentrates at an infinitely dense point called this.” Sam knew it was the singularity and jumped up to $12,000. He would take the lead briefly on the $2000 clue in that category.
He wouldn’t hold it long, though. Amy found the second Daily Double near the end of the round in NATIVE AMERICAN PLACE NAMES IN THE U.S. “It’s the capital of a state and the seat of Laramie County.” Amy knew it was Cheyenne and gained $4000 which put her at $21,000. She finished with the very impressive total of $25,000, Sam was next with $20,000 and Andrew was in last place at the end of a final for the first time with $6800.
The Final Jeopardy category was the deceptively easy sounding MOVIES & LITERATURE. The clue was anything but that. “Ridley Scott’s first feature The Duelists, was based on a story by this author to whom Scott’s film Alien also pays tribute. All three contestants were thinking in terms of science fiction or fantasy. Andrew wrote down: “Who is (Philip K. ) Dick?” Sam wrote down: “Who is A.C. Clarke?” Amy responded: “Who is Lovecraft?” As Ken pointed out: “Many of the spaceships and other objects are named in honor of the works of Joseph Conrad, such as the Nostromo, the spaceship in Alien. And Conrad wrote the duelists.” It came down to wagers: Andrew bet $5999. Sam bet everything and Amy bet $6000. Amy was left with $19,000, which gave Amy her second victory, tying her with Andrew.
Winner Game 4: Amy.
In the Jeopardy round, everybody got off to a slow start. Amy found the Daily Double early and got it wrong. (The FURNITURE category was a bad one for the contestants.) Slowly but surely Amy pulled into the lead with $2400 at the commercial break and $6000 by the end of it. Andrew was next at $2400, while Sam, who was in the red for much of the round, managed to get up to $1600.
Early in Double Jeopardy it looked like Andrew had the momentum. He found the first Daily Double in 20th CENTURY FICTION. As he done on five previous Daily Doubles in the finals, he bet everything: “This book with a facial feature in its title was Toni Morrison’s debut novel.” He thought for a moment before guessing: “What is The Bluest Eye?” He doubled his score to $10,000.
He then found the other Daily Double on the very next clue in PAINT SAMPLES. Once again, he bet everything. This time, his luck ran out. “Don’t try to pet this cat in a tricky canvas by Louis-Leopould Boilly, who invented this French term.” Andrew struggled but could not come up with a response. It was trompe l’oeil.” He dropped to nothing and spent the rest of the game in last, though he gave it his best effort.
Amy maintained her lead the rest of the way, despite a worthy challenge by Sam. At the end of Double Jeopardy, Amy led with $15,800, Sam was next with $11,200 and Andrew trailed with $6800. Amy was in the best position to clinch the tournament.
The Final Jeopardy category was ENGLISH CITIES. “William the Conqueror’s son built a fortress on a key northern river in 1080, giving this city its name.” Andrew didn’t have the right answer, but Sam and Amy did: “What is Newcastle?” Sam also knew the other part of the name: “upon Tyne.”
It came down to wagering. Sam, who had nothing to lose, bet everything. Andrew, who knew his only chance was if Sam and Amy canceled each other out, bet $6700. Amy clearly saw Andrew as the bigger threat and wagered only $1800. If she’d been wrong and he’d been right, she still would have won the tournament. Unfortunately for her, Sam was not as cautious and was rewarded with his first victory of the finals.
Winner Game 5: Sam.
The early stages of the Jeopardy round were dominated by Sam and Andrew. Then Sam found the Daily Double in WRITERS AND THEIR WORKS. He gambled and bet the $2600 he had. “Left unfished at his death, Juneteenth, his second novel, was published in 1999.” Sam puzzled over this before guessing: “Who is Baldwin?” This was wrong. It was Ralph Ellison. He dropped to zero and spent the rest of the Jeopardy round in last.
By the middle of the round Amy caught fire and pulled ahead. She spent much of the remainder battling with Andrew for first, and finally took it over with $6400 to his $5800. Sam was in a distant third with $1400.
Luck seemed to be with Sam early in Double Jeopardy. He found the first Daily Double on his first selection in BODIES OF WATER and bet the $2000 he could. “The Komandorski Islands are part of a 1200 mile arc separating this sea from the Pacific Ocean to the South.” He knew it was The Bering Sea and went to $3400.
Sam’s luck improved more when Andrew made a mistake in the category ‘P.J.” that cost him $1600 and Sam got one that earned him $1200. He then hesitated before choosing the category MOVIE TAGLINES and found the other Daily Double. He bet $3000.
“2021: Every family has its own language.” He hesitated before guessing: “What is CODA?” and jumped up to $9600 and into the lead.
That unfortunately was the highpoint of the game for him. He soon lost $3600 on two consecutive clues in INTO CREAM CHEESE and the rest of the round was fought fairly evenly between Andrew and Amy. When Amy got three of the last four clues correct, she managed to get the barest of advantages, finishing the round with $15,600 to Andrew’s $14,200 and Sam’s $8000.
The Final Jeopardy category for the game was PLAYS. “The January 12, 1864 Washington Evening Star reported on a performance of this ‘dashing comedy’ to a ‘delighted full house.’” Sam may have had the right idea when he wrote down: “What is Our Mutual Friend?” but Andrew and Amy had the right play: “Our American Cousin.” (This is the play Lincoln was seeing at Ford’s Theater the night he was assassinated.)
Again it came down to wagers. Sam bet and lost everything. Andrew bet $2801. But Amy had learned her lesson and this time bet $13,000. This gave her $28,600 and made her the winner of the Tournament.
Tournament Winner: Amy. ($250,000)
Second Place: Andrew. ($100,000)
Third Place: Sam ($50,000)
Tomorrow I will wrap up this series of articles with a final analysis of the tournament and the significance of the winners in the context of the history of Jeopardy.