Everything You Need To Know About All The (Other) Great Champions Before Monday
The time has come. Is the 2022 Tournament of Champions the most anticipated in the history of Jeopardy? I can’t say. But it almost certainly is the one most by people who have only started watching the show in the last few years.
And given that three of the greatest Jeopardy champions in the show’s history will be at the center of it — Matt Amodio, Amy Schneider, and Mattea Roach, who combined have won 101 games and over $3.5 million — it’s hard to argue why. (Although given how much money all three have won already, is the grand prize of $250,000 that they are playing for simply chump change at this point? Well, James Holzhauer didn’t treat it as such.)
It’s also hard to argue that this isn’t one of the most significant Tournaments for other reasons. To state the one that millions have already focused on, this is by far the most LGTBQ+ friendly Jeopardy tournament in history. Amy Schneider is transgender, Mattea Roach is a lesbian and Rowan Ward, one of the winners — and the viral sensation of the just completed Second Chance Tournament — is the first non-binary competitor in history. There have been gay, lesbian and trans players on the show in the past but given the way the world and sadly Jeopardy works that same way, most have been in the closet until well after their appearances. (The very first winner of a Tournament of Champions, Jerry Frankel, was gay and actually suffering from AIDS during his Tournament win in November of 1985. He passed away just two weeks after his shows aired.) I don’t deny this is significant. It also helps matters that Amy and Schneider are two of the greatest players in history and Rowan more than demonstrated that they could be one..
Equally significant is that this particular tournament has the most female participants of any tournament in the history of Jeopardy. Setting aside Rowan, there are eight female champions competing in this tournament. Granted the ratio of male to female champions is still three to two but considering that for almost all of the Jeopardy Tournaments of Champions as well as special tournaments over the years, the ratio of male to female champions is usually two to one at best, this is a huge deal for the show, particularly one that recently had to fire its executive producer for sexist behavior behind the scenes. And make no mistake, all of these female champions are excellent players. (Sure I advocated for four of them not making it due to normal rules, but I’m not going to take a bow for that. They earned it.)
Now I could expend a lot of energy trying to predict whose going to win this tournament. But as I’ve send in countless Jeopardy related blogs in the past several years, that is absolutely the one thing you can never do on this show and not risk looking like an idiot. I’m not even willing to say with certainty that those same three great champions will necessarily be playing in the finals in two weeks. I get it: they have a bye to the semi-finals while the other eighteen players are going to be battling it out. That doesn’t necessarily give them at advantage. Just because you have an edge going into one of these tournaments promises nothing. Ken Jennings himself knows this better than anybody.
Hell, Matt Amodio may be in more trouble than he thinks. Jonathan Fisher, an eleven game champion I’ll be going into detail below on, is playing against him. And both Rowan and the other Second Chance finalist Jessica Stephens are in this tournament because of their performance against Matt. Rowan forced him to a near draw. Jessica defeated him in Final Jeopardy but ended up losing to Jonathan Fisher. So if any of those three make it to a semi-final against him, Matt might be in for more than he bargained for.
Now at this point, if you go to the Jeopardy website or look online, you know the makeup of all six quarterfinal matches. I could just as easily write it down and try to make predictions, but like I said, I don’t want to look like an idiot. So instead, I’m going to focus on the accomplishments of the ‘Elite Eighteen’ (to coin a phrase the show used in the Ultimate Tournament of Champions, so you can tell the champions without a scorecard. For the sake of time, I will proceed chronologically, starting with the earliest winner:
Brian Chang: 7 Games Won, $163,904
Analysis: Some players on this list will be remembered for trivial reasons. Brian’s place is more morbid. He is the first player to win five games after Alex Trebek died. He also was the third player in Jeopardy history to win a tie-breaker round (as Jack Weller would eventually benefit from) And his run came to end when he was beaten by…
Zach Newkirk: 6 Wins, $124,871
Analysis: Zach has an even more dubious place in Jeopardy history; he is the first champion whose run was interrupted due to Covid travel restrictions. That may have cost him his chance to participate in the 2021 Tournament of Champions. It has been nearly two years since his last appearance on the show. Hopefully, there won’t be too much rust.
John Focht: 4 Wins, $103,800
Analysis: Full Disclosure; I completely missed John prior to this tournament. That’s particularly unfair, considering he managed $25,000 per win, a better record than quite a few players on this list who won far more games. It doesn’t per se give him a better chance than many of the players on this list; but don’t underestimate him.
Courtney Shah, 7 Wins, $118,558
Analysis: Seven wins is a good number for any Jeopardy champion. Of course, given the way the world works, Courtney will probably be remembered for being the only Jeopardy Tournament of Champions player to have her run under a single guest host: (Sanjay Gupta). And if this helps you remember who she is, well, whatever works.
Jonathan Fisher, 11 Wins, $246,100
Analysis: It says a lot about how Jeopardy is that Jonathan’s place in history will be first ‘the player who defeated Matt Amodio’ rather than managed to win eleven games and nearly a quarter of a million dollars. That he won six games in blowouts and had become what was only the tenth player to win eleven games in that points makes him little more than small potatoes this season. Don’t underestimate him. Matt Amodio did.
Tyler Rhode, 5 Wins — $105,901
Analysis: This is more personal. I remember thinking after Tyler’s fifth game that Season 38 of Jeopardy might be special. We were two months in the season and we had just one player who left after one game. I didn’t know just how close to the truth I was.
Andrew He, 5 Wins — $157,365
Analysis: Similar to Jonathan, Andrew will most likely be remembered as the player who was defeated by Amy Schneider for her first victory. Of course, winning five games this season (even if four of them were blowouts) and ‘only’ $157,365 (even thought that’s more than one seven-game winner and one six-game winner) doesn’t count for much either this year. He was, for the record, ahead of Amy at the start of Final Jeopardy before he lost. I think she’ll remember that.
Sam Buttrey, Professors Tournament Winner — $100,000
Analysis: If this is the official replacement to the Teachers Tournament, Sam is more than up to the challenge. He won his quarterfinal in a runaway, had the only correct answer to win his semi-final and won the final in a runaway.
Jaskaran Singh, National College Champion — $250,000
Analysis: An exceptionally good champion, he won his first game in a rout, had a come from behind victory in his semi-final and was in complete command in the two game final pretty much from the start of Game 1 to the end of Game 2.
Christine Whelchel, 4 Wins- $73,602
Analysis: Christine is known as much for being a cancer survivor as a Jeopardy champion (she appeared in her fifth appearance without her wig). She also managed to begin her run on the show by winning a tie-breaker. Her streak was ended by.,.
Margaret Shelton 4 Wins, $79,700
Analysis: Slightly luckier than Christine she managed one major come from behind win and one rout. She was leading in Final Jeopardy for Game 5, and had she just wagered sensibly in Final Jeopardy (her opponent also got the response wrong) her run would have kept going. Instead, she lost everything leading to the run of…
Maureen O’Neill, 4 Wins, $58,200
Analysis: Maureen decided to follow Margaret’s example and bet everything in Final Jeopardy whether she was leading at the end of Double Jeopardy or not. This worked for her for four games but in Game 5, her luck ran out and she finished in the red.
Jackie Kelly, 4 Wins, $115,100
Analysis: Jackie won just $7500 in her first appearance, which meant she basically won $104,000 in three games. That’s pretty impressive no matter how you many games you win.
Ryan Long — 16 WINS, $299,400
Analysis: No mistake that Ryan was one of the luckiest of the multi-game winners this season. He had four absolute runaways and two were basically lock ties, he had three wins where he had to come from behind in Final Jeopardy to prevail and he didn’t have a lot of huge payouts, particularly compared to the other three super champions and even some of the smaller winners on this list. But all that means is that he had to work a lot harder then most of them to get where he needed to. Don’t pretend that doesn’t count for something.
Eric Ahasic — 6 Wins, $160,601
Analysis: Eric Ahasic, of course, will go down in Jeopardy lore as the player who beat Ryan Long. Of course, he then went on to win his next five games in utter routs, averaging $27,000 a win from that point forward. Throughout the sixth game it looked very much like he was going to keep on winning his seventh straight, which is why we give credit to…
Megan Wachspress 6 Wins, $60,603
Analysis: Okay, I can’t exactly pretend Megan is one of the all time greats, especially when I spent so many articles arguing that at least three of the players I mentioned above should be included despite Megan’s accomplishment. And it becomes a lot trickier when you know that really, one player she beat really should have ended her streak at three games. (Sadie Goldberger learned that you write only the last name of the correct answer if nothing else.) But six games and $60,603 is not nothing. A six game winner on Jeopardy is as qualified as anyone else.
Jessica Stephens — Second Chance Finalist, $35,000
Rowan Ward — Second Chance Finalist, $35,000
Analysis: I have nothing further to say about either of these players that it didn’t say in my analysis of the Second Chance Tournament save to repeat, Matt Amodio had better hope neither of them ends up in his semi-final match.
One last thing to take away from this list: how few players in this Tournament won five games or less. That may not count for much in the era of super-champion, but as someone who remembers very clearly how rare it was in so many tournaments to have more than one player who won more than five games (for the record, the 2021 Tournament of Champions had four players who’d won more than five games and five players who’d won four games or less) this shows that multi-game winners are starting to become more common than ever. Considering the higher ratings for Jeopardy in the past year, it’s hard to argue this is a bad development.
All right. You have the list. I’ll be back after the first quarterfinal matches to make more assessments.