What Amy Schneider’s Tournament Win Means in the Context of Jeopardy
And Full Credit To Her Fellow Finalists As Well
After an epic six-game battle, Amy Schneider finally managed to win the 2022 Tournament of Champions, defeating Andrew He and Sam Buttrey.
In a season of historic streaks, there was always a question as to which of the super-champions would emerge the victor. No doubt it came as a shock to the more recent viewer that Amy was the only one of the big winners to qualify for the finals at all, with Matt Amodio and Mattea Roach losing in their semi-final matches. Halfway through the final, it looked like the odds were in favor of Andrew. But she played superbly in the final three games, went into all three in first place and managed to win two of three.
By taking the quarter of a million dollar cash prize, Amy’s winnings on Jeopardy give her a grand total of $1,632,800. This puts her in fourth place among the all-time money winners, trailing James Holzhauer, Brad Rutter and of course Ken Jennings. Jennings witnessed the battle from beginning to end from the podium and perhaps better than any other person connected with the show knows just how difficult the feat Amy has just accomplished.
Amy also became only the fourth female contestant to win a Tournament of Champions. The other three are Rachael Schwartz in 1994, Robin Carrol in 2000 and Celeste DiNucci in 2007. The winner she has the greatest parallel with is Robin, who for a brief time was actually the biggest money winner in Jeopardy history, having won both the 2000 Tournament of Champions and the 2001 International Tournament. Her total of $220,000 was the highest won by any contestant at the time — until the doubling of the dollar figures in November of 2001 and the Million Dollar Masters in May of 2002.
Where Amy Schneider ranks among the all-time greats still remains to be determined. At this juncture, I think it is safe to consider her the fourth greatest player of all time behind the three players ahead of her on the all-time money record. She is clearly a superior player to Matt Amodio, who finished behind her in the exhibition match that they played two weeks prior. Mattea did, for those who might not have seen it, managed to runaway with the exhibition game, but considering both that she had won a little more than a third of Amy’s total and was flattened by Andrew He in her semi-final match, it’s hard to consider her the superior player right now. I have a hunch that we will see all three players on the Alex Trebek stage in the not-too-distant-future.
Credit must also be given to Amy’s two fellow finalists, Andrew and Sam. All six games were magnificently played by any standard, with not a single runaway in any of the games, all of the matches being determined by Final Jeopardy and everything coming down to the wagers on some of the toughest Final Jeopardy clues in recent years. Amy and Sam each managed to get three of the six Final Jeopardys correct, while Andrew managed to get just two.
Amy deservedly won the Tournament, but if there is a breakout star of this Tournament of Champions it is Sam Buttrey. The winner of the inaugural Professors Tournament in December of last year (in the middle of Amy’s original run) Sam managed a runaway victory in the last quarterfinal match and managed to defeat Matt Amodio in his semi-final. To that point in his Jeopardy career, he had never lost a game. He was also significantly older than both Amy and Sam, and often age can work against Jeopardy players both in regular play and in tournaments. It certainly didn’t work against Sam, who matched up more than evenly against one of the all-time greats.
In addition, Sam may be the first great Jeopardy contestant to have gone viral since Austin Rogers and his extraordinary run of twelve wins in 2017. (There was a similar level of playfulness among all three players in the finals, when it came to gestures and gesticulating in the opening.) He also had a remarkable awareness of recent pop music and dance crazes and may be the first contestant to have the best byplay with Ken Jennings since he began his hosting duties.
Ken did a fair amount of joking with quite a few players in this tournament, but he had a true affinity and playfulness with Sam. This became clear when Sam managed to pick the last clue at the end of the Jeopardy and Double Jeopardy rounds of the finals. In the first four games, he had the habit of saying ‘Bring It’. By the fifth game, Sam was actually being more playful: when he said in the Jeopardy round of that game, Ken said: “I was waiting for that.” When the opportunity came in Double Jeopardy, he said: “May I please have the final clue?” Ken’s response: “So polite now.” In last night’s game, he just read out the clue and Ken said: “I will bring it.” And in the last clue of Double Jeopardy, their interaction was delightful:
Sam: May I please have the most final clue that you have, Ken?
Ken: You know what Sam; I will accommodate you.
Sam: Thank you.
Sam was funny and charming in almost every aspect of the show, when it came to being flattered that he was being compared to Steve Martin, who he called ‘the most handsome man in the world’, his jokes about skydiving and how he described some of the songs he wrote in his spare time as ‘unfunny and obvious’. Sam has no doubt won the hearts and minds of so many fans of Jeopardy and has ranked himself as one of the sweethearts of the 2021–2022 season. I suspect many players from this Tournament will be returning to the Jeopardy stage in years to come; I think — and hope — that Sam will be one of them.
This may seem to short-change Andrew He, which is unfair to him. While its still a bit too early to see where he will end up ranking in the Jeopardy annals, it’s worth noting that he has already managed to defeat Mattea Roach and battled on an even keel with Amy Schneider the whole way. (Considering that she defeated him to begin her incredible streak perhaps may have added an element of vengeance.) His approach to this tournament mirrored that of super-champions James Holzhauer and Matt Amodio himself, starting in the $1000 clues. His all-in approach on Daily Doubles also mirrored that of Holzhauer and ‘lesser’ champions like Alex Jacob and Roger Craig, both of whom used that approach to win their respective Tournament of Champions and with considerable success a bit beyond that. The first two games Amy and Sam were chasing Andrew. His luck began to falter in the next two and the turning point was the last Daily Double he hit in the Double Jeopardy round of Game 5, which went against him and left him with nothing. Still his challenge to Amy was superb and while he won ‘only’ five games in his original run, I suspect we haven’t seen the last of Andrew either.
There was a minor controversy (I’ve discussed one in an earlier article among Game 3) that in Game 5, Amy who was in the lead, wagered less than she should have to win the tournament so that Sam could win a game. I don’t think I have to dignify this controversy with an argument. I’ve never seen a Jeopardy tournament in history where any contestant tries to lose a game. I don’t care how friendly everybody acts on the stage: when it comes to big money, everybody is calculating and cutthroat. Amy was never going to let an opportunity like this drop. You give anybody an advantage in a tournament, you could immediately pay for it. Any Jeopardy player knows that no matter how many games they win.
What’s more, Amy no doubt considered that Andrew, who like her had two match points, was the bigger threat. If she wagered too much against Sam and was wrong and Andrew wagered enough and was right, he would win the tournament that day. Besides she had spent the majority of the finals wagering carefully and her betting for that was consistent with that of previous four. She learned her lesson after that, and in last night’s game made sure she bet enough so that she would defeat Andrew for good.
This year’s Tournament of Champions was, pretty much from beginning to end, utterly thrilling and worthy of the champions that preceded it. Will it continue to follow this format in years to come? I find it unlikely. But like everything else that has happened in the past year and a half, it has more than proven itself fitting to the era of Peak Jeopardy that we are fortunate enough to be living through.