And It Was Memorable In All The Right Ways
This evening Mayim Bialik completed her first official stint as host of Jeopardy amid a slew of controversy that its clear has not abated. After a summer of discontent following the choice of Mike Richards’ as Alex Trebek’s replacement, followed by a series of past incidents that led to him being fired first as host, then as executive producer, followed by the announcement that Bialik and Jennings would guest host the show for the remainder of 2021. To say that Jeopardy’s 38th season has started under a cloud would be a vast understatement.
But for those who care about minor things — such as the competition, the players and who wins the games — the new season so far has been greatly rewarding with one of the most memorable starts and some truly remarkable players. As what appeared to be Jeopardy’s second biggest deal during the interim between last season and this one — how long would Matt Amodio continue his remarkable winning streak and how much would he win? The answer was, pretty long and a lot more. For the first month of the season Matt continued one of the most remarkable runs in game show history, finally being defeated after 38 wins, second all time, and more than $1.5 million in earnings — third for a contestant’s original run, and fourth in all-time money won. (He trails are little-known players James Holzhauer, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. Will he end up on The Chase next? Hard to say.)
If it had only been for Matt’s remarkable run, Season 38 would already be known as one of the most remarkable seasons in the series storied history. But there have been some impressive accomplishments. The man who ended up defeating Matt was an actor named Jonathan Fisher, who was about to make Jeopardy history of its own, albeit minor sort. He would go on an eleven game winning streak, finishing up with just shy of a quarter of a million dollar in earnings. Compared to Matt Amodio, that is not particularly remarkable. But as Bialik herself noted, Jonathan was only the twelfth contestant in the show’s history to win as eleven games. Leaving aside that fact, it is even rarer in Jeopardy history for a great champion to be supplemented by another one — you would have to go back to the days in the 1990s when a five day champion would be followed by another five day champion — and even then, it didn’t happen that often.
And to follow this remarkable streak, one day after Jonathan was beaten, yet another new champion would begin a streak. Tyler Rhode, a healthcare data specialist would win five games and over $100,000 before being defeated on Wednesday. This would be a remarkable turn of events for Jeopardy at any time, much less a period where the series is being noted more for what happens behind the scenes than in front of the podium.
It should be mentioned that during this period, Bialik has performed with grace and charm. She handles the interview sections well, she compliments the players for doing well on Daily Doubles, she clearly understands the show’s history as well as the fans, and her bubbly sense of humor and style have remained utterly unfazed by all that is going on around her. In short, she has been the quintessential Jeopardy host, modeling her performance on the best aspects of Alex Trebek’s gravitas with a level of spirit that is entirely her own. Bialik has made noises that she now wants to host the show on a permanent basis. Given the last two months, it would be hard to argue that she has not earned the right.
More importantly, the first two months of the new season have demonstrated everything that is truly great about Jeopardy. Competitors showing immense knowledge on varied topics, remarkable winning streaks, large amounts of money being won in competitive games. If ever there was a rosy sign for Jeopardy’s future, it would be the fact that during the last two months I haven’t missed Alex Trebek so much.
I won’t pretend that things will necessarily continue this way — I imagine as we turn towards 2022, it is likely that there will be more focus on who does get the job on a permanent basis. But I think the question that needs to be answered and really still isn’t being asked is: what do the fans think? If they are like me, they are looking towards the future and wondering what the next Tournament of Champions will be like and what Ken Jennings will think of the players that have come since? If I know them and Jennings, they’re probably glowing with pride.