Potential Champions For A Jeopardy 40th Anniversary Tournament
Part 3 of An Ongoing Series
Three of the next five on this list would be obvious choices. The next two are borderline compared to those who’ve enjoyed success in recent years, but having had reason to review it recently they are more than worthy choices.
Why he’s earned it: When he made it to nine wins in 2008, Dan Pawson had the third highest total in Jeopardy history to that point. (Jennings and David Madden were one and two.) No one would manage to get as high as nine victories for another four years (as we’ll see a little further down the list.)
In the finals of the Tournament of Champions, he faced off against Larissa Kelly, whose feats I went into great detail in the previous entry. He managed to pull off a narrow victory thanks to success in Final Jeopardy on the second and last day.
In the Battle of the Decades, he played superbly in what was a tough Round 1 match against Maria Wenglisky (who I might suggest later on as a possibility for this Tournament). Narrowly emerging as the victor, his run came to an end when he ran into the machine that was Brad Rutter in his quarterfinal match and a Final that stumped everybody.
Dan is a superb player and also has a great sense of humor. One of my favorite anecdotes (relayed in the Battle of the Decades) was that he was nicknamed ‘The Sly Fox’ by Alex Trebek because of his wagers in Final Jeopardy. He gave that nickname to the car he bought with his winnings. I also think it slightly unfair that Larissa, the champion he defeated, was invited back to the All-Star Games, but he wasn’t. He’ll be back this time, I have no doubt.
Why he’s earned it: Vijay only won four games in his initial run, but that’s hardly a major disqualifier. He managed to win $82,400 in those four games which is impressive. The year he played in, there was an odd mix of champions with many qualified six and seven game winners not making it to the finals and Vijay and another four day champion qualifying.
But one of the bigger reasons where I think Vijay deserves more credit is the fact that he was born in Mumbai. Jeopardy is so centered in America that it is rare for a player not born in the United States or Canada to do well. I know of only a handful players born outside America who’ve had any success on the show, much less won a Tournament of Champions. When we consider that, the fact that Vijay managed to actually do so is all the more impressive. Vijay is far more qualified than even some of the other Tournament of Champions winners on this list.
Why he’s earned it: Roger Craig is one of the greatest players in Jeopardy’s nearly four decades on the air. That’s not hyperbole. On his second game, he broke Ken Jennings’ one day record for money won with $77,000, a mark that stood for nearly nine years until James Holzhauer shattered it (and then broke it again…and again…we’ll get to that)
In just six games, he managed to win $230,200 which at the time was the third highest amount of money won by a Jeopardy champion in their original run. He did this by searching the bottom of the board for the Daily Doubles and betting everything each time he hit one, and almost inevitably triumphing on each one. This is such common behavior by Jeopardy players’ right now that it’s easy to forget that Roger helped perfect it.
That same success helped him romp to an easy victory in the 2011 Tournament of Champions and carried him into the finals of the Battle of the Decades against Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. At the time Alex said there was an argument they were the three greatest in Jeopardy history. And there were at least a couple of occasions where Roger had the two of them by the throat… until his strategy on Daily Doubles turned against him twice.
I had many arguments with the choices for the Jeopardy All-Star Games; Roger Craig’s presence wasn’t one of them. I was surprised that he didn’t turn out to be nearly as valuable a player as I thought to his team, but it doesn’t change the fact that he’s still one of the all-time greats. No matter what format the fortieth anniversary tournament takes, Roger Craig will be there even if some of the other players on this list aren’t.
Why he earned it: Everything I said about Roger Craig is absolutely true — but he wasn’t the most successful player on Jeopardy that year. That honor goes to Tom Nissley who near the end of 2010 managed to win 8 games and $235, 405. It is Tom’s fate that he never caught the public’s fancy the same way Roger did — Roger made national news for his accomplishments — and therefore never got the credit even among fans. (I was certain Roger was going to win the 2011 Tournament of Champions before it began. The fact that Tom Nissley was the better player didn’t affect my opinion; I’m not even sure I remembered who he was.)
Tom played brilliantly in the quarterfinal and semifinal match of that Tournament and actually was outplaying Roger in the Jeopardy round of the first final match. Then Roger started finding the Daily Doubles and by the end of Final Jeopardy in Game 1, it was all but over. Tom still managed to finish second and take home $100,000.
But that’s how Jeopardy works. Roger Craig was automatically invited back for the Battle of the Decades: The 2000s three years later. Tom Nissley came back as a fan favorite, and while I won’t reveal the names of his fellow nominees, none of them were in the same league as him as a player. He ended up having to face off against Celeste DiNucci and Colby Burnett, two Tournament of Champions winners. (I discussed the former in the previous entry; I’ll deal with the latter in the next one.) In Final Jeopardy, he was the only player to come up with a correct response. He was in third and his two opponents were $200 apart in score. Nineteen times out of twenty Tom would have moved on to the finals. This was the twentieth time.
Tom has never gotten anywhere near the credit for his accomplishments on Jeopardy; certainly not from me. I think he’s earned another shot back.
Why He’s earned it: If Tom Nissley has been treated unfairly by Jeopardy when it comes to prior tournaments, Jason Keller has been absolutely shafted. In 2011, Jason Keller had one of the most successful runs of any Jeopardy champion to that point in the show’s history. He became the first player since Dan Pawson to win nine games and won $215,900. It would be three years before any champion won more games than him or more money. He had to wait nearly a year and a half before he appeared in the 2013 Tournament of Champions. He dominated in his quarterfinal match, and then ended up getting blown out in his semi-final match due to circumstances not entirely within his control.
He has never been asked back to another Tournament since then and I am absolutely unable to understand why. He was not invited back to compete in the Battle of the Decades: The 2000s even though two other competitors who had been part of his year were though each had only won seven games and neither had won two thirds of his total. (One of them will get mentioned here; the other is a qualified player but for reasons I don’t think are fair to them is unlikely to ever come back to Jeopardy.) Tom Kavanaugh, who won 8 games in 2005, was also asked back even though he’d barely won two thirds of Jason’s total. Had David Madden been participating it would have made more sense, but his absence and Tom being included over Jason strikes me as ludicrous in hindsight. Whether Jason should have been asked to the All-Star Games is a closer question. There were some players who had less of a track record than him who were invited, but by that point in the show’s run, there were also more qualified players then him who were ignored.
I know in an era where more and more players have reached double digits in victories that Jason’s figures may seem pedestrian by comparison. However, I still believe it would be an act of reparations to invite Jason back to compete in a future Tournament. It was unfair to exclude him before; Jeopardy should make it right.
To Be Continued….