‘Jeopardy!’ Keeps Seeing Winning Streaks. Champions Ponder Why.

When Amy Schneider became the fourth contestant in “Jeopardy!” To surpass $ 1 million in regular-season earnings on Friday, he extended his winning streak to 28 games.

It was a notable milestone for Schneider, who last month became the most successful woman on the show last month.

His victory came as long winning streaks have become more common on “Jeopardy!” – There even appear to be streaks of stripes. Earlier this season, Matt Amodio won 38 consecutive games, the second-longest career in the show’s history. The player who defeated him, Jonathan Fisher, ended up winning 11 games in a row, a rare feat in itself.

From “Jeopardy!” got rid of a rule in 2003 that limited contestants to no more than five wins in a row, only a dozen contestants have managed to win 10 or more games in a row. Half a dozen, or six streaks, have occurred in the past five years, while half of those six have occurred this season.

The winning streaks have provided some excitement and a surge in viewership ratings for a show that has struggled to pick a permanent replacement for Alex Trebek, its longtime beloved host, who died in November 2020. But they’ve also raised new questions.

Is this trend simply the result of chance? Are the contestants getting better in preparation? Have they learned to play the game? Is this a case of improvement over time, in the same way that the best runners and swimmers can break the records set by their predecessors? Could the clues possibly be getting? easier?

“Behind the scenes, we’ve spent a lot of time arguing whether this is some kind of ‘new normal’ or if we just had an unusual windfall of brilliant ‘Jeopardy!’ gamers, ”wrote Michael Davies, the show’s executive producer, in an email.

He dismissed the idea that the clues could get easier and easier.

“In fact, I think the show may get more and more difficult,” wrote Davies, noting that the topic covers an increasingly wide range of material. “Let’s face it, few people read the same books or watch the same TV shows. And we have greatly diversified the story, the cultural and pop cultural material that we expect our players to compete for. “

Theories abound about the show’s recent streak of big winners. In interviews and emails, several recent champions and people who write about “Jeopardy!” and obsessively studying it offered their thoughts.

The writers and producers behind the show have spoken about various possible explanations, Davies wrote, including that contestants now have access to a host of online resources (including a fan-generated website called the J! Archive, which Schneider relied on. to prepare, which includes tracks dating back to the 1980s).

Andy Saunders, who runs The Jeopardy! Fan, the numbers have started to run and he believes the trend may be significant beyond this particular time. In a blog post on Friday, Saunders wrote that the average streak length began to increase in the 2010 and 2011 seasons, suggesting it could be the result of more intensive preparation on the part of contestants.

Some point to the influence of a star player: James Holzhauer, a professional sports bettor who won 32 games in 2019 and continues to hold the record for the most money won in a single game.

Holzhauer’s strategy – starting with the high-value tracks, looking for the Daily Doubles, and making risky bets – turned out to be a winner for him, and some contestants took note. Amodio, for example, said he copied Holzhauer’s approach of starting with the big money tracks at the bottom of the board. But Schneider has done the opposite, taking a more traditional approach that she called a “backlash. against James Holzhauer “.

Holzhauer’s view of the current trend? Product of chance.

“People always assume that everything is a paradigm shift,” wrote Holzhauer in an email, “when actually it is quite normal for the results to be clustered occasionally.”

One theory holds that the pandemic may have played a role, causing delays that increased the wait time, and potentially study time, that contestants had after being invited to compete on the show.

“There were a lot of people who knew they were going to be on the show and they could spend a lot of extra time preparing,” Saunders said.

Amodio and Schneider were two of those people. Amodium, a Ph.D. A computer science student at Yale, he was initially scheduled to compete in April 2020, but due to pandemic cancellations, he began filming a year later than originally planned.

At the time, Amodio said in an interview, he focused on getting to know pop culture, an area of ​​weak knowledge for him. He listened to pop music he hadn’t heard before (discovering Dua Lipa in the process) and saw samples from a wide range of current TV shows (including “The Good Place,” which earned him the correct answer to a $ 1000 track in his thirteenth game).

Schneider was invited to the show in the fall of 2020, but filming was delayed and she didn’t compete until about a year later, giving her more time to practice with tracks from previous games and correct gaps in her knowledge (“how to forget which Brontë’s sister was which ”, he said).

But she said in an interview that she was skeptical that extra study time was a significant factor. She views a well-prepared contestant as someone who has long been an intellectually curious person, not someone who creeps out before the test. “You just have to live a life where you learn things all the time,” he said.

Fisher, who beat Amodio, had little time to prepare: It was only a week between receiving the call to invite him to appear on the show and his arrival at the studio.

Another explanation being considered is the recent surge in applicants. Shortly before the pandemic, the show introduced a new entrance test that aspiring contestants can take at any time, rather than limiting it to particular times. In a recent article for The Ringer exploring the trend in streaks, Claire McNear reported that before the new test was presented, “Jeopardy!” it had about 70,000 applicants each year; With the new exam, you get an average of about 125,000 a year.

The show has also replaced regional in-person follow-up rounds with virtual rounds, a change that Cory Annotated, a game show journalist who will appear on the show as a contestant this week, sees a significant factor.

“When you lower the barrier to entry, you often get better results,” he said.

The string of hits comes at a time of turmoil for “Jeopardy!” The search for someone to succeed Trebek became controversial after McNear reported that his chosen successor, Mike Richards, had made offensive comments about women on his podcast several years earlier (Richards left the role of host and later left the show. completely). Ken Jennings, who holds the record for the longest streak since winning 74 games in 2004, and comedy actress Mayim Bialik have shared host duties since then, but the show has postponed the official appointment of a permanent host for the regular season.

McNear, author of a 2020 story for the show called “Answers in Question Form,” wrote in the article that the removal of the five-day limit in 2003 had been “an explicit tactic by then-executive producer Harry Friedman to spark interest in the show. show, ”and noted that the show’s viewership ratings have increased this season compared to last season.

When asked if it was possible for the show to try to engineer streaks, for example pitting champions against weaker opponents, Davies said, “I can assure you that’s not the case.”

He said that a diverse group of contestants are selected for each recording and that an outside compliance agency randomly selects which games they will play in and in what order.

It is also difficult to predict how well a contestant will do based on what is written. An element that is essential for a “Danger!” The streak is not related to knowledge or recall of information, but to the ability to use the doorbell in the specific study environment.

As a defending champion, Schneider said she quickly learned that she had a significant advantage over newcomers because she already felt comfortable and fast with the device.

“Now that I’ve had my own streak,” he said, “I’m almost surprised it didn’t happen more often.”

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