What is What Controversy?

Jeopardy’s doing just fine in the Post-Trebek Era

He’s doing fine. So’s the show, in case you were wondering. npr.org

I don’t know if those people who have taken shots at Jeopardy over the past several months for the behind-the-scenes controversies in hosting and production have actually bothered to watch the series during the 38th season. But for people like me who actually give a damn more about the champions and the clues then anything else, not only is Jeopardy doing just fine in the post Mike Richards world, there’s an argument that it may be as good as its ever been, at least when it comes to producing great and memorable champions.

When Mayim Bialik’s initial run came to an end a month ago I thought the one regret Ken Jennings might have about taking over was that he wouldn’t be able to compare notes with Matt Amadio, who is now second to him on the all-time win list and third in money won on their original run. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect that Ken would be in a position to a player who is at least potentially as great as him and already in a position to be one of the all-time great Jeopardy champions. Yet that very scenario has been playing out the last two and a half weeks with Amy Schneider, who hasn’t yet managed to reach the levels of Amadio, but is already on the verge of being mentioned in the same breath as him.

Amy is nearly as dominant a player as Matt was, though her approach is completely different. She starts at the top of the categories and works her way down, she only bets big on Daily Doubles in the Jeopardy round or when she has a big lead (which is often) But she’s just as dominant a player as him — all but one of her games has been a runaway so far — and she makes just as few mistakes. There is, however, one key difference between her and Matt — she bets really big in Final Jeopardy. On a couple of occasions that could have potentially ruined her — there have been at least three games where an incorrect answer could have given a player so far behind a win. That, however, would assume she would make an incorrect Final Jeopardy. That’s only happened once in her thirteen wins so far. Her numbers are impressive. On Friday night, she crossed the half-million dollar mark with an explanation point — she’s now won $536,400, putting in her fourth place on the all-time money won in a Jeopardy champion’s original run. There are still some goal marks of her — she’s got a ways to go before she gets as high as sixth or seventh place on the all time consecutive win total — and we’ll have to wait two weeks to see if she gets that far, as Jeopardy is doing its first ever Professors Tournament starting Monday. But at this point, she has to rank as one of the ten great Jeopardy players in history.

I actually admire Jennings’ restrain in making comparison to Amy’s remarkable run. If anything, he has been incredibly self-deprecating to this point. The most he was willing to say about came on Friday when he told the audience in the opening that Amy was winning at a rate far above some of the greatest players in Jeopardy’s history — ‘certainly above me.’ (This is true. The only player with a higher total at this point in their run was James Holzhauer.) I can’t imagine what it feels like to be a record-holder like Jennings and see your records under constant assault. I hope I would be able to handle it with the grace he has been up to this point.

And on a purely personal level, I honestly can’t remember if there’s ever been a period in Jeopardy’s entire history where two players who have to be considered among the all time great have arrived on the scene this close to each other as Matt Amadio and Amy Schneider have. The closest I can remember is when Buzzy Cohen, who would win 9 games and Austin Rogers, who won 12 games and over $400,000 in roughly a six month period. There were also several very good players within their interim. The first quarter of Season 38 has had several players of that level — in addition to Amy and Matt, we’ve had Jonathan Frazier, who became the twelfth player to win 11 games immediately after defeating Matt, Tyler Rhode who won five games and just over $105,000 and Andrew He, who won five games and just over $157,000. (The player who defeated him? None other than Amy Schneider.) Five people have qualified for next year’s Tournament of Champions already this season. When the Professors’ Tournament is over, there will be six and the 38th Season won’t be a third over. (And that’s without counting two very good winners from last season.) I think the longest of long-time Jeopardy viewers among us (and believe I’m one of them) would have a very hard time remembering when this many great champions emerged in this quick a time.

Now I’m well aware that the show’s problems aren’t behind it. Jeopardy still hasn’t reached a decision who will be hosting the show in 2022, much less who will be doing so full-time (if indeed they do come up with a single full-time host). But for those of who love Jeopardy as much because of the people who played there as well as for Alex Trebek, it would be incredibly difficult to make the argument that when it comes to the show itself, Jeopardy is doing just fine. I think even Alex would be willing to agree with that.

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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.