WATCH: ‘Jeopardy!’ Tournament of Champions Contestant Sam Kavanaugh Takes Huge Risk in Daily Double

by Emily Morgan

One Minnesota teacher got the thrill of a lifetime during Monday’s episode of the ongoing competition, “Jeopardy!’ Tournament of Champions.”

The returning “Jeopardy!” all-star is headed into the finals after a risky bet proved to be worthwhile. His wager? Nothing. During the “Daily Double” segment, Sam Kavanaugh wagered not even a single penny during the show’s final question. Although he was well ahead of his competitors with a total of $28,600, the move proved to work in his favor making him the first finalist in the “Tournament of Champions.”

“It feels great. It feels like I just got batted around in some rapids,” Kavanaugh said of his former competitors during an interview after making it into the semi-finals. “Those two are just very good.”

Kavanaugh had an impressive winning streak on the show back in 2019. In July of that year, he had a five-day streak that left him with a total of $156,202.

Two years later, jobless and amid the pandemic, Kanvauaugh got the call asking if he would appear on “Jeopardy!” Tournament of Champions.” As a result, Kavanaugh used his newfound free time to study whenever possible.

Minnesota Teacher Named First Finalist in ‘Jeopardy!: Tournament of Champions’

Devoting everything he had into preparation, Kavanaugh is now set to go head-to-head with two other finalists for a $250,000 grand prize. Based on his staggering winning streak in 2019, Kavanaugh already had a pretty good idea of what it takes to win and how to study.

“Because I was one of the first people in the pool of contestants [for the champions tournament], I was watching all the games,” he said. “So I knew who all my competitors were going to be, one at a time as they came up, and I realized pretty quickly that I wasn’t going to be the most knowledgeable person there,” he said, pointing out that the top contestant won 19 games versus his five. “But given that I had the time, hopefully I could be the most prepared.”

In addition to studying facts and figures, he trained mentally too. The “Jeopardy!” alum looked at the different game elements and created ways to practice. He even made drills for wagering on clue selection. He also analyzed himself and other players to identify his weaknesses and figure out how to play against those opponents effectively.

Additionally, his years of teaching also gave him valuable skills in preparation.

“There’s no more hostile crowd than a group of 14-year-olds, but I have fun with it,” he said. “Sometimes if we finish the lesson with time to spare, I will let the kids know I’m studying for the tournament and I’d tell them they could leave early if they could point out two countries on the world map and stump me for the capitals two times in a row.”