Jeopardy is Starting Its Fortieth Season By Giving 27 Former Contestants A Second Chance
And The Fact That Most of Them Don’t Deserve Is The Smallest Part of My Problem With It
I was kind of appalled, to say the least, when I ended up reading online why several so called ‘fans’ of Jeopardy were upset at the lineup for the 2023 Tournament of Champions. Not because they thought the contestants were unqualified; no, it was because there was only one woman. “How could the show have so few female competitors in the Tournament of Champions?”
It is that reaction that makes me certain these ‘fans’ of Jeopardy only started watching within the last two years at most. Jeopardy has standards for participation in its tournaments but affirmative action and gender equality have never been something that get you in. You have to win a certain number of games or a tournament to get in. I’m actually starting to believe that’s at least part of the reason that another, more controversial issue for long-time fans of the show is about to resurface big time as the new season begins this week.
I am now going to address the Jeopardy producers directly for the rest of the article. (Ahem)
I have been a huge fan of this show for thirty years. I am very aware that the last three years have been difficult to say to the least for this iconic show.
You handled the passing of Alex Trebek clumsily, if I’m being charitable. You had time to come up with an alternative and you completely dropped the ball. The guest host situation was even more poorly handled and everything involved Matt Davies was far worse.
I had faith that the players would keep the show alive and we all were proven correct. That has allowed me to overlook some questionable decisions that the show has been making in the past year. I did not much care for the change in the format of the 2022 Tournament of Champions particularly in the finals. You were fixing something that, in my opinion, was not broken but I figured given everything that had happened the past two years the show was entitled to make some changes. Your decisions to move into prime time have more than delivered, both when it comes to Celebrity Jeopardy and the Masters Tournament. I would hope to see your Prime Time College Championship resume for at some point.
You’ve had to deal with some more controversies this year, many of which are the result more of internet trolling (which I suppose was in inevitable) and everything involved the WGA and SAG-AFTRA’s strikes. I defended your behavior quite a bit during this latter period, though I’ll be honest, the show hasn’t made it easy. I grant you the recycled clues thing is a complete canard and you should have explained it better to your fans. It’s harder to defend the show’s decision to go about business as usual while everything else has shutdown and I think there will be repercussions considering the Tournament of Champions whenever it happens this year. I realize that this is the 40th season of Jeopardy and you might have felt that you owed it to us the fans to keep the lights on. I have had my issues with the work stoppage in recent weeks and am inclined to agree that there an argument for your position.
However this brings me to a format I absolutely cannot defend — even though I actually defended it last year.
When you announced the Second Chance Tournament leading up to last season, I tried to keep a more open mind than many of my fellow fans. I said that this went against everything of the past thirty seven years of Jeopardy and that it seemed the equivalent of giving a participation trophy. I then went back through all eighteen players you ended up invited back to last year’s tournament and in good conscience could only find a rational case for eleven of them. I was also willing to give you some rope and let the tournament play out.
I now realize I exercised too much restraint. The fact is your actions in the Second Chance Tournament are the kind of thing that I believe the man your stage is named for would be spinning in his grave about. Because while Jeopardy might be willing to rank its champions, to extend an invitation back to players who failed the first time goes against everything not only Jeopardy but game shows themselves stand for. It is the decision to invite a student who completely failed a test an invitation to get to the Honor roll by having them take the exact same test against seventeen other students who failed the exact same exam.
And just to be clear; as good as Jessica Stephens and Rowan Ward might have been when they won their Second Chance Finals, it does not change the fact that when they were up against players who had actually won several games both demonstrated how inadequate they were to task. Rowan Ward can at least use the excuse that their opponent John Focht ran away with the game in Double Jeopardy. Jessica Stephens has no such defense. I have been watched Jeopardy for thirty years: I don’t remember the last time I ever saw anyone register a score of -$5800 in a regular season game, much less in a Tournament of Champions.
I was willing to let all of that pass because I figured given everything that had happened in the interim involving the 2022 Tournament lineup, it was a one time thing. I did not expect you to essentially double down on it the way you have in what will be the start of this season.
I have listed below for my fellow readers a complete list of the 27 players who have been invited back for a second chance. I did an extensive amount of research on Jeopardy archive to see if these players (who in some cases extend back to the Alex Trebek era) had any qualifications. I intended to list all of the reasons I thought some of them were but by the time I got to Week 3, I had lost heart. Because while there was at least some justification (however thin) for the majority of the players who were invited back in 2022, even the most reckless contorting of the facts make it impossible to come up with a justification for even a third of them.
It was one thing to invite players back who had nearly defeated Matt Amodio, Amy Schneider or Mattea Roach. One thing to invite back to player who ended up being the one left out between Amodio and Jonathan Fisher. One thing to include players who lost in tiebreakers. But that all only applied because these were extraordinary players. How do you justify someone coming back who ended up being defeated by a four time or five time player? How do you justify someone who lost between two three game champions (Donna Vorreyer). In at least four cases, the sole justification for extending an invitation seems to be that these players were leading in Final Jeopardy and got it wrong. I don’t have to tell anyone who watched the show for even a short time how low a bar that is to be invited back. This is why they’re called consolation prizes.
And to be clear it was bad enough when you invited eighteen players back in 2022. But twenty-seven former players? In a regular season (if you included the number of tournaments say in 2018) that’s a participant in one out of every seven games. I realize how much effort it takes to win at least one game on Jeopardy, let alone five, but to just lower to the bar on the show to say, ‘close is good enough’, well, this is ridiculous.
I have to say what you’re doing is the kind of thing that I could easily see a right-wing publication or network railing about if they had the inclination. To be clear, if they did I would completely agree with them and that’s before you get to the optics. I know that Jeopardy has had problem in recent years including sexist behavior behind the scenes and outrage from minority contestants. At this point, I am really starting to wonder if in addition to every else, the Second Chance Tournament is a backhanded way to try and get around these issues.
It did not escape my attention that in the first Second Chance Tournament, ten of the eighteen players invited back were women. One of them was non-binary and three were minorities. I was willing to let that slide though I found that very questionable. Now among the 27 players invited back starting next week there are eleven women and more than half a dozen minorities. I like to consider myself reasonable but someone far less cynical then me can only look at this and figure that Jeopardy is trying to solve its minority problem this way. We’re not quite at the level of just saying that if you’re a woman or a person of color or an LGBTQ+ you don’t even have to win a game to make it to the Tournament of Champions, but this is as close to that argument as the show seems to be making. If the talking heads were to argue that Jeopardy was becoming woke or acting out affirmative action, I don’t know how anyone could argue otherwise certainly not myself. At best, it sounds like the producers heard the comments from the trolls above and decided to give in; at worst, it’s a negation of the last four decades.
And it’s not like the most recent crop of champions from Season 39 is just a lot of white men as it frequently was the first decade of the show’s run. Hannah Wilson is the second transgender female to qualify for the Jeopardy Tournament of Champions. Ben Chan is one of the most recent in superb Asian-American players the show has had in the last decade. Suresh Krishnan may have performed poorly in six wins on the show (not as well Luigi De Guzman) but they are both among the best minority players in recent years. I don’t deny Jeopardy troubled history with female and minority champions over its run — I’ve made those same arguments at great length over the years — but just opening the door and invited any Jeopardy contestant who happens to meet a specific quota — and that’s what the Second Chance Tournament seems to be its heart — looks horrible on any level.
One of the producers joked when they created the Second Chance Tournament that they might have ‘broken the show.’ That’s not a joke in this context. This decision is one of the worst the show has made in forty years and not because it seems to make a systemic change in order to give the appearance of a cosmetic one. I don’t see any end result where this tournament doesn’t end up reflecting badly on Jeopardy short term or long term. Are we coming to the point where when Ken and Mayim announce the results of the game, they’ll have to say to both the losing contestants: “You played a good game. Maybe we’ll see you in the Second Chance Tournament.” Because once Jeopardy reaches that point — where the losers have as much a chance as getting invited back as the winners — then there really isn’t much point to keep Jeopardy going on any longer. You might as well have Johnny Gilbert announce at the beginning: “Please welcome tonight’s future champions.” A bit extreme? Maybe. But it does seem we’re heading in that direction.
Below is a complete list of the 27 players who are going to compete in the next three weeks. I initially tried to give an explanation as to why they might have been invited back for a second chance. After it became so difficult to comprehend I gave up. I have listed their names and in many cases the dates. The best site for this information is j-archive.com. You want to look through them yourselves and explain why they deserve a second chance, knock yourself out.
Jeopardy Second Chance:
Played Between Zack Newkirk and Brian Chang
Was defeated by Ryan Hemmel, four game Jeopardy winner
June 7, 2021 Reasons Unclear
Was leading in Final Jeopardy on May 13, 2021
Was leading going into Double Jeopardy lost $10,000 on Daily Double. Got Final jeopardy right. Opponent got it wrong.
December 8, 2020 Unknown
Tied for The LEAD AT THE END OF April 28,2021. Got Final Jeopardy wrong.
March 8, 2021.Was Leading for Much of the Game. Got Both Daily Doubles
In Double Jeopardy wrong and lost lead. Therefore lost the game.
Lost to Three Game winner Patrick Hume and came between 3 game winner Mike Nelson.
Was leading at the end of Double Jeopardy at the end of May 5, 2021 Game. Got Final Jeopardy right but didn’t bet enough to win.
Was Leading Andy Wood at the end of Game 3 of his original run. Got Final Jeopardy wrong.
Was in first place at end of Double Jeopardy on March 18, 2021. Got Final Jeopardy wrong
Narrowly lost to John Focht, 2022 Jeopardy Tournament of Champions Semi-Finalist
Was beaten in Matt Amodio’s first win.
February 5, 2021 Unknown
Competed against Tim Moon July 13, 2021
Was leading in Final Jeopardy September 21, 2020. Only player to get Final jeopardy wrong
Was leading in Final Jeopardy February 16, 2021. Got Final Jeopardy wrong.
June 18, 2021
April 29, 2021
February 26, 2021
Brayden Smith Game 5
Courtney Shah Game 6
July 19, 2021
Matt Amodio Game 5