‘Jeopardy!’ Contestants Debate the Rise of Super Champs

by Leanne Stahulak

This unprecedented season of “Jeopardy!” has set several new records and produced super champions that used to be a rare sight. Now, we’ve had at least three super champions in just the last few months, a trend that caused the New York Times to investigate it.

The Times used a specific metric to gauge these “super champions”: Contestants who have won 10 or more “Jeopardy!” games. Until 2003, contestants had a limit on the number of games they could win, set at five and no more. But since that rule has been upended, only a dozen contestants have reached that benchmark in the last two decades.

Per the outlet, half of those dozen contestants competed in the last five years. And of those six, three have competed this season alone. Matt Amodio kicked things off with a record-breaking 38-day win streak, coupled with $1.5 million in winnings. Immediately after him, Jonathan Fisher went on to win 11 “Jeopardy!” games. The two became the first back-to-back double-digits champions in the history of the show.

And now, we’re watching Amy Schneider’s revolutionary win streak. Not only is she the woman with the most consecutive wins, but she’s quickly sneaking up on James Holzhauer’s previous record of 32 games. At 28 wins as of Friday, Jan. 7, Schneider stands to sweep Holzhauer’s record if she wins every game this coming week.

The Times reached out to several previous “Jeopardy!” champions and those who are intimately familiar with the show to analyze the recent rise of super champions.

Here’s What ‘Jeopardy!’ Experts Have to Say About the Rise of Super Champions

Michael Davies, the executive producer of “Jeopardy!”, said the crew has taken notice of this unusual phenomenon.

“Behind the scenes, we’ve spent a lot of time discussing whether this is some kind of ‘new normal’ or whether we’ve just had an unusual windfall of brilliant ‘Jeopardy!’ players,” Davies said via email.

The Times predicted many possible explanations for this new trend. But Davies quickly squashed the idea that the clues could be getting easier over time.

“I actually think the show may be getting harder,” Davies wrote. If anything, he said, the material is becoming even more widespread. “Let’s face it, so few people read the same books anymore or watch the same TV shows. And we have massively diversified the history, cultural and pop-cultural material we expect our players to compete over.”

Davies also disputed the theory going around that “Jeopardy!” is “engineering” these win streaks. Some on social media have wondered if these super champions are really being pitted against “weaker” competition.

“I can assure you that that isn’t the case,” Davies said.

Others point to the pandemic as a potential boon. The Times reported that Amodio and Schneider both thought they would be taping at some point during the pandemic only for actual taping to begin a year later. Schneider, however, doesn’t think the extra study time made as much of a difference as it seems.

“You just have to live a life where you’re learning stuff all the time,” Schneider said. In her mind, constantly being curious and wanting to learn beats out “cramming for a test.”

And, to further dispute that point, Fisher only had one week’s notice before he went on “Jeopardy!”.

James Holzhauer Gives His Hot Take on New Trend

When speaking to the Times, former “Jeopardy!” champ James Holzhauer said he sees the new trend as a “product of chance” more than anything. Some people theorized that his revolutionary run in 2019 inspired new styles of gameplay in future winning contestants. He wagered big and took huge risks on the show that paid off, earning him the highest amount of money won in a single game.

Amodio said he adopted Holzhauer’s strategy. Schneider, on the other hand, said she played as a “reaction against James Holzhauer.” Both were successful, which points to Holzhauer’s point about this being chance.

“People always assume everything is a paradigm shift,” Holzhauer said via email, “when it’s actually fairly normal for results to occasionally cluster.”

What do you think of this season of “Jeopardy!” super champions, Outsiders? Tell us your thoughts.