No Matt Amodio, But Its Still A Great Start for The New Season of Jeopardy
A Look at Season 39 So Far and What’s to Come
We are officially one month into Season 39 of Jeopardy and while we have yet to see a super-extended winning streak like Matt Amodio was continuing at this point last season, we have seen several smaller, skilled champions that show their own level of potential.
The season began with Luigi De Guzman, who won the last game of the season continuing his streak until he had won five games and $140,700 before being defeated by Emmett Stanton. Emmett in turn won three games before being beaten by Martha Bath. Martha made a different kind of history when she revealed that exactly half a century earlier, she had appeared on the 1970s version of Jeopardy, winning $40 and a set of encyclopedias. She won considerably more when she defeated Emmet: $30,800.
Three days later, another rarity appeared on Jeopardy: David Sibley, an Episcopal priest began a four-game winning streak that ended up netting just over $78,000. It is exceedingly rare for a member of any clergy to appear on Jeopardy, much less do this well. But in David’s attempt become a five-day champion, he was unseated by a higher power — or to be more accurate, a far superior player. Cris Panullo, computer operations engineer routed David and began a streak that has been impressive so far: four consecutive runaway victories, eight consecutive correct Daily Doubles and to this point, $136,459. His fifth win officially qualifies him for the Tournament of Champions and given how well he is playing, he has the potential to be as good as the three super champions of last season, Amadio, Amy Schneider and Mattea Roach. (At this point, he is slightly ahead of Amadio and Roach after five games.)
Cris and Luigi have officially qualified for the 2023 Tournament of Champions. It is possible David will also be participating; it is still far too early to tell. But in the next month, two new Jeopardy Tournaments will unfold; one a perennial; the other brand new. The Second Chance Tournament will feature eighteen Jeopardy players some of whom have come close to defeating many of the super champions last year. It will feature two sets of semi-final matches, which will lead two finals which will have two players earning $100,000 and a chance to compete in the Tournament of Champions. I will have more details about this tournament before it begins on October 17th, including a breakdown of all eighteen contestants and why they are in this tournament.
The Tournament of Champions is typically the most anticipated event of the Jeopardy season. (There has not always been a season-to-season correspondence; occasionally other tournaments or a lack of the required minimum of champions have caused it the series to skip a year. There was, for obvious reasons, no Tournament in 2020.) But there is an excellent chance that the November Tournament may be the most anticipated one in the history of Jeopardy. With five champions who have won eleven games or more, and three players who have won over half a million dollars to this point in their runs, there is an excellent chance that the 2022 Tournament of Champions could break ratings records for the show. Added to this is the fact that for the first time since it was created in 1985, the producers of the show have changed the format.
Normally, the Tournament features fifteen players. There are five quarterfinal matches that lead to five winners and four wildcards (the highest scores among non-winners. This then proceeds to three semi-finals and a two-day final with the winner taking the prize ($100,000 until 2001, $250,000 ever since.) This year, almost certainly due to the substantial number of champions, Jeopardy is radically altering the format. It will feature twenty-one participants (17 champions and the winners of the Professors Tournament, The College Challenge and the two finalists for the Second Chance Tournament) will play. There will be six semi-final matches, leaving us of six winners. In the semi-finals, two semi-finalists will go on to face Amodio, Schneider, and Roach, each of whom have earned byes into the second round. From then on, things will proceed as normal.
I am of two opinions of this change. Given the circumstances of the past year and a half, I give credit to the producers for decided both that the large number of ‘typical’ champions (if you can go so far as to call Ryan Long and Jonathan Fisher’s accomplishments ‘average’) combined with conditions of the pandemic and the problems with hosts before Ken Jennings and Mayim Bialik took over, no doubt have called for some radical variations to the typical format. As someone who argued very strongly for four-day champions such as Margaret Shelton and Maureen O’Neill, who would have excluded under the typical format to be allowed to participate, this is more than fair.
On the other hand, the closest equivalent to this came in the Ultimate Tournament of Champions which I have discussed in passing on a few occasions. Nine great players from Jeopardy history were given byes into the second round: including Brad Rutter, who had won the million masters, Robin Carroll, at one point the biggest money winner in Jeopardy history and Chuck Forrest, the first legendary champion. Of the nine players, only two went on to win their round two match against two undefeated players (Rutter and Frank Spangenberg, who held the record for most money won in five games for over a decade.) The other seven would lose, and often lost badly. Considering how well players like Forest and Carroll played in their next tournament, The Battle of the Decades, it is possible that many of the players who got a bye were disadvantaged without that first game under their belt. Could it happen here? Well… Brad did go on to win the whole tournament, and beat Ken Jennings for the first time, several players who got a bye almost won their match, and several Tournament of Champions winners were defeated in their first-round match. So it is possible I am exaggerating and the risk to these champions being defeated is no greater than any other multiple game winner in any other Tournament of Champions. All of this is a very roundabout way of saying anything can happen, and I expect millions to tune in to see if it will.
So far this season Jennings has been the sole host. Bialik has been busy so far with the Prime-Time Celebrity Tournaments which as I said, I am inclined to ignore. (I may DVR them just in case we get a good one.) Bialik will share duties with Jennings in the Second Chance Tournament and will take duties over after the Tournament of Champions ends in late November. Jennings has settled into his duties well, for the record but I still think the decision for the two to split host duties is the right one: they complement each other well.
We are still clearly at Peak Jeopardy, given how the season is unfolding so far. And there may be even more Jeopardy to come producers are discussing the possibility of a show featured more on sports and pop culture and a so-called ‘champions’ league. The former has had variations over the years (Rock and Roll Jeopardy aired on VH-1 in the late 1990s-early 2000s and a sports version has aired online) and I would be more than delighted to see such a champions’ league. (Though I have reservations which I will relate in a later article.) There will be more to come in the weeks to follow. Stay tuned next week when I relate the Second Chance Tournament.