Recap of the Finals of The Jeopardy Invitational Tournament

David B Morris
12 min readApr 10, 2024

The Long Jeopardy Postseason is Over. A Review Before Normal Play Resumes

I didn’t expect it going it but Victoria Groce has proven she is a Jeopardy Master.

Some of you who have been reading my Jeopardy columns over the last few years will know that I am covering familiar ground with the introduction. Please indulge me.

For a long time one of the crosses Jeopardy has had to bear was how few women had won the Tournament of Champions. In 2022, Amy Schneider became only the fourth in nearly thirty-eight year history of the modern incarnation to win a Tournament of Champions and the first since Celeste DiNucci in 2007. In the more than thirty years I have been watching Jeopardy, I have noticed that there is a similar gender disparity in all of the ‘special’ tournaments that have unfolded.

In the 10th Anniversary Tournament in 1993, only one woman participated in the Tournament at all and that was due to fate. With the exception of the winner of the 1993 Tournament of Champions winner, the other eight players were selected at random from a drawing of the semi-finals in the eight previous Tournaments of Champions. Only Leslie Frates, who was a semi-finalist in the 1991 Tournament of Champions was chosen. She managed to make it all the way to the finals of the tournament before being defeated by Frank Spangenberg in Final Jeopardy.

It would be another twenty-six years before another female champion managed to make it all the way to the finals — and that has an asterisk next to it, which I’ll explain. In the 2002 Million Dollar Master Invitational, Jeopardy invited fifteen former Jeopardy champions to compete. The gender parity was pretty much equal — eight males, seven females. After the quarterfinals were over, it was still almost dead even; five male semi-finalists, four female ones. But despite superb play by more than a few of these women, the finals of the Tournament were an all-male affair, the first time that Brad Rutter would win the grand prize.

The odds were even more slanted in the Ultimate Tournament of Champions that took place for much of 2005. 144 former Jeopardy champions were invited back to compete in a tournament that took nearly four months to complete. The gender disparity was far more weighted towards male contestants: there were four male competitors for every female one at the start of the tournament and with each round that passed, fewer female competitors managed to make it to the next round. At the end of the finals, Brad Rutter would defeat Ken Jennings and Jerome Vered for $2,000,000.

There was a better gender balance in the Battle of the Decades in 2014. 14 players from the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s were invited back to compete and the male/female ratio was 2:1. (Contestants were also allowed to vote for a fan favorite for each decade, but since all three choices were male I’ll leave that out. For each decade, however, you had a choice of a field of five and each field there were three males and two females.)

The quarterfinals made it more than clear that it was luck that was keeping women from advancing rather than gender. All but two of the matches were competitive and in four of the fifteen matches, a female contestant was leading going into Final Jeopardy only to lose the quarterfinal. By contrast in two of the quarterfinal matches, female competitors were trailing in Final Jeopardy but came from behind to win. Like the Masters and the UTC, the finals involved three male champions but Brad, Ken and Roger Craig had all fought hard to get to the finals and at the time, they could well have been considered the three greatest Jeopardy players in history.

The All-Star Games in 2019 as I have mentioned before featured six teams, each headed by a captain. Brad and Ken were two of the captains and one of the captains was Julia Collins, whose 20 wins were at the time second in Jeopardy history only to Ken Jennings. Each captain was able to choose from twelve former Jeopardy greats, eight male, four female. Despite the fact that Julia’s team was the first eliminated, by the time of the final match, each of the three final teams: Teams Brad, Ken and Colby each had a female member: Larissa Kelly was on Team Brad, Monica Thieu on Team Ken, and Pam Mueller on Team Colby. When Brad’s team prevailed Larissa was on stage for Final Jeopardy, making it the first time — albeit with an asterisk — that a woman had participated in the finals of a super-tournament.

I’ve mentioned how pleased I was by the lineup of the Jeopardy Invitational Tournament, but it was not until recently I realized how the good the ratio of male to female invitees was. Exempting Amy Schneider, Andrew He and Sam Buttrey, the ratio was fifteen male contestants to nine females, essentially 3:2. Proportionately, that’s the best ratio of male to female competitors a tournament such as this has had since the Million Dollar Masters.

Just as with the Million Dollar Master, the quarterfinals ended with five male finalists and four female finalists. But for the first time in the history of Jeopardy super-tournaments, the finals contained two female competitors to one male one. And both Amy Schneider and Victoria Groce had to earn their way in their semi-final matches; Andrew ran away with his game.

The question going into a final that would require two victories to take a spot in the upcoming Jeopardy Masters would that streak continue. Here’s how it played out.

Game 1

From the start of the Jeopardy round it seemed to be Victoria’s game. She jumped to an early lead which she managed to make even bigger when she found the Daily Double in the category IN THE PAST. She bet the $4200 she had:

“In ancient Rome the conflict of the orders refers to the struggle between these 2 social classes with names that start with ‘P[. She knew they were patrician and plebian and doubled her score. She finished the Jeopardy round with $10,600 to Amy’s $6200 while Andrew trailed with $2600.

Andrew seemed to take the early advantage in Double Jeopardy when he found the first Daily Double three clues into the round. He wagered the $4200 he had in ON THE MAP: “Tourists can swim in Devil’s Pool adjacent to Livingstone Island & atop this natural wonder.” Andrew knew it was Victoria Falls and jumped to $8400. It was as close as he or Amy would come to catching Victoria.

Victoria got the next three clues correct before finding the other Daily Double in the category IN THIS ECONOMY?! She chose to bet the $13,400 she had:

“Adam Smith called this system of semi-free labor that ended about 500 years before his time ‘barbarous’. She knew it was feudalism and jumped all the way up to $26,800. She seemed to have locked up game 1 before it was even over.

But no one told Amy Schneider that. She spent the rest of Double Jeopardy on what seemed to be a fool’s errand: to get her total high enough so that she could at least challenge Victoria in Final Jeopardy. And on the very last clue of the round she managed to get her total to $15,000 to Victoria’s $29,600. Andrew was out of the running with $9400. Still it looked good for Victoria going into Final Jeopardy.

The category was U.S. GOVERNMENT: “The formation of the Brownell Committee out of concern over U.S. communications intelligence led to the 1952 creation of this body. Andrew didn’t even try to answer and wagered nothing.

Amy was next. She wrote down: “What is the NSA?” That was correct. She wagered everything to double her score.

It was up to Victoria. She wrote down: “What is the CIA?” Her wager of $401 was irrelevant. Amy had managed what may very well have been the greatest come-from-behind victory I have ever seen in my years of watching Jeopardy to take the first game.

Game 2

Amy and Victoria were dead even for much of the Jeopardy round. However, at the halfway point it was Amy who found the Daily Double in WORKING HARD, HARDLY WORKING. She bet the $4400 she had:

“This traditional term for Japan’s famously hard laboring male office workers references both wages and genders.” Amy knew it was a salaryman and doubled her score to $8800. She didn’t get another correct answer for the rest of the round but was still in the lead to Victoria’s $6800 and Andrew’s $3000.

Early in Double Jeopardy Victoria got to the first Daily Double in NOVEL TITLE CHARACTERS. She chose to bet the $11,200 she had:

“The first name of this title character of a Defoe novel is an old word for a prostitute.” Victoria knew it was Moll Flanders and jumped up to $22,400. A huge lead but as she knew all too well, not necessarily a safe one.

This time Amy got to the other Daily Double in the category CONSONANT-VOWEL x3. (As Ken explained, each response would be a word with that pattern, such as ‘salami’. Amy bet the $12,000 she had:

“Catholics hoping for special grace may pray this, said for 9 consecutive days.” Amy knew it was a novena and jumped to $24,000. She wasn’t close to catching Victoria who was already at $29,400 and she couldn’t close the gap. But all three players were in it when the Double Jeopardy round ended: Victoria led with $37,600, Amy was next with $26,000 and Andrew was third with $8600.

The Final Jeopardy category was MYTHOLOGY. “A peasant who became the king of Phrygia created this intricate problem that was solved in 333 B.C.” All three contestants knew the correct response: “What is the Gordian Knot?” (solved when Alexander the Great used his sword.) It came down to wagers. Andrew bet $8000 to go to $16,600. Amy bet $11,601, which put her ahead by $1. Victoria bet $14,401 to give her a very impressive $52,001 and get her her first match point.

Game 3

Victoria got off to a fast start in the Jeopardy round before she found the Daily Double in LITERARY LINES. As is her want, she bet everything she had. This time, it didn’t go her way:

From Hamlet, ‘This above all’, this phrase. She stumbled before guessing: “What is ‘the rest is silence?” I recognized it was from earlier the play: “To thine own self, be true.” She dropped to zero and had to start rebuilding. As a result at the end of the round, the scores were much closer than usual: Victoria had $5800, Amy $4200 and Andrew was at $3200.

In Double Jeopardy Victoria again got off to a fast start and she and Andrew divided the first seven clues before Amy was able to ring in. She then found the first Daily Double on her next pick in OPERA SETTINGS. She bet the $6200 she had, though she didn’t seem thrilled. She was right not to be:

“Verdi’s Falstaff is set in this town during the reign of Henry IV.” Amy stumbled before guessing: “What is Southwick?” I knew what the correct response was because Falstaff is based on Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor. Amy lost everything.

Victoria built her lead up to $15,600 when she got to the second Daily Double in THE MEASURE OF A MAN. This time she bet $6000 in an effort to lock up the game:

“You only need letters on the left side of the keyboard to type this unit of capacitance that’s named for an English chap.”

Victoria tried to use her mind to picture a keyboard and guessed: “What is Henry?” It was the farad (named for Michael Faraday). She dropped to $9800.

The battle the rest of the round was tooth and nail and when it was over all three players were in contention: Victoria had a small lead with $11,400, Andrew was next with $10,000 and Amy had recovered to $7200.

The Final Jeopardy category was BODIES OF WATER. “The smallest inland sea in the world, it’s completely within the territory of a single country & connects two larger seas.”

Amy’s response was revealed first: “What is the Sea of Marmara?” That was correct. Ken explained that it is the little, tiny sea between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea and it is located in Turkey.” Amy gained $1400 to put her at $8600.

Andrew had also written down the Sea of Marmara. He gained $4401 to put him at $14,401. He was clearly hoping to beat Amy by one dollar and that Victoria would be incorrect.

It came down to Victoria. She had written down: “What is the Sea of Marmara?” She added $8601 to go to $20,001 giving her the second and deciding match point and making her the winner of the first ever Jeopardy Invitational Tournament.

I had few expectations of Victoria going into this tournament but watching her play throughout the Invitational, it was hard to argue she wasn’t the equal of all of the great Jeopardy players that had been brought back. (The same, it must be said, is true of Brandon Blackwell who like Victoria is more known for his play on The Chase than his Jeopardy record.) Victoria was exceptional in all five games and was leading at the end of Double Jeopardy in every game she played in, which is an impressive record given the level of the competition. It was not until her final appearance that she made errors on Daily Doubles in any of her matches. And considering that she managed to personally defeat all three former Masters participants who were trying to get back into this year’s Masters, one can say that she is more than qualified to meet up with the other three.

The Masters lineup for 2024 will now feature Matt Amodio, Mattea Roach, James Holzhauer, Victoria Groce, Yogesh Raut and one choice that will be revealed soon. We know the Jeopardy Masters will take place next month: I imagine the final participant and the dates will be announced within a matter of days.

And now the long and seemingly endless postseason that has officially taken up two thirds of Season 40 is over at last. So the question before we resume normality again, was it worth it?

One has to remember most of this postseason was created by circumstances beyond the control of Jeopardy’s producers. At the end of the day, it might have been in the best interest of the show to simply postpone the start of its season until the writer’s strike at least had been resolved, if for no other reason than the optics were terrible for all concerned.

I remained unconvinced of the Second Chance Tournament merits for the show. Despite the superb play of Juveria Zaheer, I still believe it is a core violation of the principles of the show. However I am slightly more sold on the idea of the Wild Card Tournament, not merely because some of my favorite players from the past two years manage to earn spots in the Tournament of Champions this year but because of the results of the Invitational Tournament. In Victoria’s original appearance in 2005, after all, she would have qualified for a Wild Card Tournament and one would be hard pressed after these past few weeks to argue that there might well be other players in the past who might well have done as well had they gotten the opportunity.

And to be clear the last month and a half have almost, if not entirely, made up for the long period we spent wandering in the wilderness. The Tournament of Champions delivered all the excitement and surprises that we have come to expect of them over the years and the new format has helped galvanize it in a sense I was not expecting. And in its inaugural year the Invitational Tournament more than delivered on all the potential it might have. It was everything one can expect from a Jeopardy super-tournament and somehow delivered more.

As we return to normal competition tomorrow, it is unclear what Season 41 will look like. It’s certain that there will be no postseason if only for the obvious reason that there’s no way Season 40 will have nearly enough participants. I do hope that the Invitational will return next season, hopefully with a slightly different cast of former Jeopardy greats for the next go-round. Perhaps by the time this season is over, they’ll have figured out the setup for the next one.

Tomorrow Lucas Partridge, who’d won the last games of Season 39, returns to defend his title. He is the holder of a new Jeopardy record: he is now the Jeopardy champion that had to wait the longest to defend his title. The previous holder of this dubious distinction was Zack Newkirk, who won would be the last game of an abbreviated Season 36 and had to wait until the middle of Season 37 to be brought back to defend his title. He had to wait what was more than 97 games to get back and his reason was because, well, 2020. To be fair Zack was able to win six games and defeat Brian Chang, who’d already won seven to that point. Will Lucas manage to have similar luck? We’ll find out starting tomorrow.



David B Morris

After years of laboring for love in my blog on TV, I have decided to expand my horizons by blogging about my great love to a new and hopefully wider field.