The Jeopardy Wild Card Tournament Doesn’t Have A Bad Concept

David B Morris
7 min readOct 14, 2023

But The Logic Behind It Goes Against A Previously Held Rule By The Show

Emma Boettcher got to the Tournament of Champions the old fashioned way. Under the rules of the Wild Card Tournament, who knows if she’d have gotten there at all?

Last week, I published a long piece about how flawed I thought the idea of the Jeopardy Wild Card Tournament was, based on the knowledge of the format I had at the time. I argued that part of the reason it seemed to have come into existence was based more on logistics than anything else and that seemed to be a flawed reason.

I intended to write a follow-up piece in which I suggested that there might be a more troubling undertone beneath the surface — indeed, I drafted the first half of that column the next day. However before I finished that piece, I made the decision that I would at least watch the quarterfinal round of the first leg before I wrote any further on it, if for no other reason than to see if my judgment was correct.

I’m glad that I chose to use caution. I won’t go into detail as to what I wrote in that article because I’m no longer certain it’s relevant to why the Wild Card was formed. I admit that I was operating under flawed intelligence as to the make up of the Tournament at the time and now that I’ve seen the quarterfinals of Leg number one (I think it may make more sense to cover the semi-finals and finals of each leg going forward rather than spend more time on every single match.) I think the concept I had of the tournament was based on a false narrative. That said my overall opinion has evolved but I’m still not sure this is the way to go forward.

First of all, with the nature of the participants in this tournament, I can’t complain about the concept. Indeed, I’m now of the opinion that the Wild Card Tournament has a far better reason for being formed than the Second Chance Tournament. As I mentioned on multiple occasions, the concept of the Second Chance Tournament is fundamentally flawed and goes against the basic concept of Jeopardy in general and game shows as a whole. One can not say the same, at least in principle, for the Wild Card Tournament. At least in this case, every participant has previously won at least one game.

The makeup of this tournament seems to consist of 108 players who won anywhere from 1 to 3 games in Seasons 37 and 38 of Jeopardy. At the very least, it’s built on a firmer foundation than the Second Chance Tournament ever was. No one probably ever asked for Jeopardy players who lost to come back and compete in a tournament. But I’ll confess that there have been occasions over my long career watching the show that there have been certain players in their original runs that I have rooted for and hoped that they would get in the Tournament of Champions, only to see them cut off after one or two games. And if that was true twenty years ago, it’s no doubt more likely in the era of social media.

So in theory this is not the worst idea. The execution, however, bothers me. Just as with the Second Chance Tournament, I feel the Wild Card Tournaments casts far too wide a net. I’m not certain if there is real cut-off date for qualifying for a Tournament of Champions but I fundamentally don’t think one win is much better than zero.

Now because this tournament takes a much longer time to complete and has no wild cards, the winner of each leg of the tournament will have to win four games in order to qualify. Again I can’t object to this concept: a winner of any special tournament since the Teen Tournament started has been that you have to win four games to get the grand-prize. And since each winner of their leg will get $100,000, the show is following the method of every tournament that it has previous done in terms of the prize, going back to the first Tournament of Champions and now essentially almost every other Tournament than the Tournament of Champions right now.

So what is my problem? It’s the basic idea that we have to have four legs in the first place. As I mentioned in the first article on the subject, there will be four legs each having nine quarterfinal matches, three semi-finals and one two-game final. Already fans are beginning to complain about having to wait until at least December to have a chance to see regular play and now that the WGA strike has been resolved, I imagine their frustration will become larger.

I also fundamentally question the idea of having any one game winner being invited back to participate in any tournament. I’ll admit it’s an infinitely better qualification than those who participate in the Second Chance Tournament but we’ve already established what a low bar that is to begin with. So far only two one game winners have gotten as far as the semi-finals but that still strikes me as two too many.

This is where I fundamentally have the biggest problem with the raison d’etre of this Tournament existence. If the cap for the number of games won for participating in the Wild Card Tournament is three wins, then the fact they are participating in a sense invalidates the idea of the Tournament. Because as I mentioned in at least two or three previous articles, Tournaments of Champions, going back to 1993, have been more than willing to accept three game winners.

And that is the fundamental flaw. If the sole purpose of this tournament is to come up with four winners for the Tournament of Champions (whenever it happens this season) then the show is reinventing the wheel. If a Tournament did not have enough players who had won four games to make up the roster, the show has been willing to invite three game winners back. This has in fact been part of the Tournaments even after the 5 game limit was removed in 2003. Michael Falk, who won only three games in April of 2006, ended up winning that year’s Tournament of Champions. Doug Hicton, who won three games in March of 2007, ended up the second place finisher in that year’s Tournament of Champions. And of course anyone who knows the saga of James Holzhauer knows that Emma Boettcher not only got into the 2019 Tournament of Champions after winning three games but nearly beat him again in the finals.

So the question is obvious: if Jeopardy needs four players to fill out the 2024 Tournament of Champions, why not just turn to those who won three games in season 39? It’s not like it wasn’t under consideration at the time: Lucy Ricketts who won three games in January of 2021 was an alternate for the 2022 Tournament of Champions. (For those of you who don’t know, an alternate is someone who goes into play in a Jeopardy Tournament if one of the invited participants is unavailable to play.) Why not just invite Lucy back to compete in the next Tournament of Champions? Why put her through the rigamarole of having to battle her way into what was once considered rightfully hers? For the record, she won her quarterfinal match on Monday and will compete next week in the semi-final match. But somehow the idea that she had to go through two one game winners to get there seems a little like too much work for previous three game winners who didn’t have to go through this.

Hell, if they were just willing to go that far, they could have filled out the bracket for the 2023 Tournament with none of this ‘postseason’. In Season 39 Emmett Stanton, Sean McShane, the controversial Yogesh Raut, Jake Derruda. Melissa Klapper, Brian Henegar, Kevin Belle and Jared Watson all won three games. When you add these eight names to the thirteen players who qualified for the Tournament of Champions last year, that gets you to 21 exactly. You don’t have to include Ike Barnholtz and you wouldn’t have had to bother with this post-season to fill out the bracket.

Considering that no one seems to really like the Second Chance Tournament and the jury’s still out on the Wild Card Tournament, one really wonders why Jeopardy’s producers didn’t think of a solution like this, especially since it was one that the show had one in the Alex Trebek era. You just do this and I don’t have to bother writing all these articles deriding these Tournaments in the first place. If for no other reason, your ‘solution’ seems ridiculously convoluted as it is, has just as much of a chance of backfiring — and when all is said and done, still only gives you four more participants in the Tournament of Champions.

So it turns out I don’t have to berate this tournament as some kind of effort to try and calm the torrents of giving in to the Internet as I was considering doing in my initial article. Now I can berate it for a far simpler reason: it’s a solution that not only did no one ask for and doesn’t really solve anything, but its ridiculous compared to an existing method that few fans of the show would have questioned. If they’d just invited three game winners back, they wouldn’t have been reinventing the wheel. The Wild Card Tournament is essentially creating a car that doesn’t end up going far enough.

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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.