The Key Word Is Almost
At this point we are close to a quarter of a way through Season 40 of Jeopardy. We have also just completed the quarter-finals of the most recent leg of the Wild Card Tournament. I promised in my last article on Jeopardy I’d get back to covering it but a lot of things — including the end of the strike in Hollywood — have gotten in the way.
But now that there is going to be a pause in television as the networks begin to pick up the rubble of the season and more importantly, the writers will begin going back to work for Jeopardy overall, I think we should take a look at the Wild Card Tournament.
I’ll be honest: the quarterfinal matches of the previous round were incredibly disappointing. They might have been called the Diamond leg but they were anything but precious. Two of them were among the most disappointing matches of Jeopardy all year and there were more than a few games where Final Jeopardy stumped all three contestants. (To be fair, two of them also stumped me.) The second semi-final ‘won’ by Aaron Craig, was not much better as entertainment. All that side the two game final was thrilling, with Jilana Cotter, who was a distant third at the end of Game 1, nearly coming from behind to defeat Emily Sands before being defeated by a very difficult Final Jeopardy.
Emily Sands was also, of the three semi-finalists, had by far won the most money in her three games and probably deserved to come back the most. Again I still heavily question the fact of not just letting three game players into the Tournament of Champions rather than go through all this rigamarole, but I can’t say I’m unhappy she’s here.
We have now just completed the quarterfinals of the Clubs leg of the Wild Card round and I’ll be honest this round has almost made the whole tournament worth it. We started the tournament in grand style with a fight between Matt Takimoto, Jen Jazwinski and Charlie Fonville in which Double Jeopardy ended with Charlie and Jen tied with $15,400 while Matt who fell victim to a very tough Daily Double in third with $8100. It came down to Final Jeopardy and Jen ended up getting Final Jeopardy right and Matt got it wrong. Both wagered everything and Jen came out on top.
You don’t top that kind of game but Game 2 came very close with a back and forth fight between Alan Johnson and Dennis Chase for the lead that ended with Alan in front on the last clue of Double Jeopardy, $13,200 to Dennis’ $12,500. Again it came down to Final Jeopardy and Dennis emerged the winner.
Game 3 was a classic by any measure in what was a fight to the death between Emily Flasco, Stuart Crane and Fred Nelson. Fred went into a big lead near the end of Double Jeopardy but when Stuart chose to bet everything in a Daily Double in SAY CHEESE!, he would bring down the house and nearly manage a huge upset. Fred held on to win in an extraordinary fight.
Game 4 was slightly toned down but it featured a remarkable performance by Nick Cascone to come from third to first in Double Jeopardy which led to his victory.
Game 5 was another nailbiter. Leah Caglio and Kit Sekelsky fought very hard in Jeopardy and Double Jeopardy. But by getting both Daily Doubles very late — the latter on the very last clue of the round, Henry Rozycki stirred the crowd by going into first. Unfortunately Final Jeopardy proved to be problematic. I will give you the clue in the category WASHINGTON D.C.
“It was proposed in Congress in 1926 in honor of a big 150th anniversary, it opened 17 years later.” None of the three contestants — and for the record, not I — knew it was the Jefferson Memorial. Kit won because she was the only contestant who didn’t bet everything.
Almost as a sign the next match was not nearly as exciting and was part of three out of four matches which were runaways albeit close ones. That said, Friday’s match was another thriller in which Carrie Cadwallader went up to a big lead in the Jeopardy round that Danielle Maurer spent all of Double Jeopardy picking away. At the end of Double Jeopardy, Danielle was in second with $16,000 to Carrie’s $21,200.
Final Jeopardy told the tale. The category was LITERARY CHARACTERS: “In his first appearance in 1902, he was described as ‘betwixt-and-between’ a boy and a bird.” Danielle was the only contestant who knew this referred to Peter Pan. (The first Peter Pan novel was called The Little White Bird for the record.) Danielle’s did only win two games, but in one she defeated Mattea Roach.
Eight of the nine games have had more than their share of entertainment value and we’ve had some pretty tough clues. Here’s who we’ll be playing in the semis as well as their previous record:
Jen Jazwinski: 2 games in July of 2021, $59,201.
Dennis Chase: 3 Games in March 2021, $48,400
Stuart Crane: 1 game, $21,800
Nick Cascone, 1 game, $26,801
Kit Sekelsky, 3 games June 2021, $35,899
Amy Bekkerman, 2 wins March 2022, $54,100
Danielle Maurer, 2 wins $27,999 (defeated Mattea Roach)
Deanna Bolio, Second Chance Tournament winner
Ed Hashima, runner up in the Professors Tournament
In the case of Ed Hashima, it is worth noting he very nearly defeated Sam Buttrey in the final: he was in the lead in the second game of Game 2 and got Final Jeopardy wrong. Still Sam’s correct response had already locked up the tournament. Ed knows he’s following in Sam’s footsteps and in both rounds when he had the last clue called out ‘bring it’ to the delight of the throng. He ran away with the game helped by a Daily Double in the appropriate category TEACHING.
I feel compelled to mention to those pedants who were upset about the possibility of the using of old clues that in fact they have been doing just that. However unless you’re a long time viewer I seriously doubt you’d notice. The only reason I have noticed is because of my love of the super tournament and have rewatched several of them so many times that I am capable of picking up on it.
To date they have repeated several of the clues in the category THOSE DARN ESTRUCANS from the Million Dollar Masters (itself a favorite from the early years of the shows) at least three separate categories almost verbatim from the Ultimate Tournament of Champions that I know of (TRIANGLES, FABRICS, and THE MAMAS AND THE PAPAS) and A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME from the Battle of the Decades. I have little doubt that many of the contestants who participated in these tournaments would in fact remember them (Ken Jennings was in the latter two, of course, but he was not in any of the games where they were used) but I think all but the most devout Jeopardy fan would have picked up on even the last one, which was used in May of 2014.
I’d also argue that there has to be an expiration date on how long ago you can use a clue or group of clues again and considering that the earliest one was nearly nine years ago, I think they’re entitled to recycle it. The contestants, it’s worth noting, didn’t necessarily study the games that closely; many of them stumped when they were used. I keep score at home but I am fair; because I remembered these clues I did not respond to them even though I knew what the correct answers were to all of them.
To be clear I am still far from won over by the execution of the Wild Card Tournament even if the concept is admirable. I also find it very hard to feel it can exist in this format if it is used again in seasons that follow — something I need to make very clear Jeopardy should not do. I’m still not happy about the idea of a one game winner or someone who has won no games at all being able to participate in the Tournament of Champions. The fact that they might have won several games to get there does nothing to make me feel this is a dangerous precedent to set going forward.
But when it comes to the quality of gameplay in the last leg I have to admit there has been a level of excitement and thrill that I have longed for from this show. This may be a backhanded compliment to the producers but it is still a compliment. That said, the idea of having the postseason at the beginning of the show is still a horrendous idea that does not strike me as the kind of the move the show should make long term. And if we have to go through another group of these games by the time by the Wild Card Tournament ends in mid-December I fear you will have exhausted quite a bit of patience and goodwill of the Jeopardy fans that have stuck with you through this period.
I’m giving you a bit more rope with the level of play in the last two weeks but my tolerance for this is beginning to wear down. You can make it up to me and the fans by starting to lay the groundwork for the next Jeopardy Masters this May — and now that the writers are back, have them start working on some really good clues. And one more thing when you get to the Tournament of Champions get Ike Barnholtz out. It would be bad enough if a Second Chance player won; God knows…who are we kidding? Ike’ll probably ask Cris Panullo for his autograph.