Fish and visitors stink after three days. But “Danger!” winners like Mattea Roach, in the new era of the super champion, can stay as many weeks as they want.
So, anyway, many fans say.
Roach, a 19-day champion as of Friday, is one of a new crop of uber winners who are — some rejoicing and some lamenting — fundamentally changing the nature of the much-loved trivia game, with participants answering in the form of a question.
In recent months, Amy Schneider (40 games), Matt Amodio (38 games), James Holzhauer (32 games), and Jason Zuffranieri (19 games) have included “Jeopardy!” in a game of stripes.
Roach, a Toronto tutor who has so far earned $460,184 on the show, ranks sixth for earnings on the show.
“Any way you look at it, we’ve had some great champions this season, and at 23, Mattea is playing on the sidelines of one of them,” host Ken Jennings said on Thursday.
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The fact that Jennings, the greatest “Jeopardy!” champion of all (74 games) has emerged as the show’s de facto host following the death of iconic host Alex Trebek in late 2020, it seems. “Danger!” is now a game of giants – and the occasional giant killer.
But – and this is the distinctive character of “Jeopardy!” and his fans – usually they are very nice giants.
“Mattea is so wonderful,” said South Orange’s Nancy Chiller Janow, a librarian who herself appeared on “Jeopardy!” in 1989.
“I like her enthusiasm and quirkiness,” Janow said. “And her condolences to the other contestants. She’s done nothing but praise the people who stood up to her. And they’re doing the same for her. If the people she’s overcome feel that way, she should be fine.”
Janow is in an interesting position to compare.
When she said “Jeopardy!” played 33 years ago the “five rule” was in effect. Entrants were limited to a week’s worth of games — the number played in one filming day. This ensured that the jackpot was never extreme. It also argued against breakout stars like Mattea Roach.
“I was sure I’d be playing five nights,” said Janow, stumbling during the first night’s Final Jeopardy, “Shakespeare’s only play to have an English venue in the title.”
“The Merry Wives of Windsor”, of course. She was devastated, as a librarian, to remember that later. She wrote ‘Two Gentlemen of Verona’. “Maybe I went for Verona, NJ,” she said.
At the time, she notes, there were no cash prizes for second or third place. Runners-up got presents. “I have great sportswear for him and her and a lifetime supply of Lifesavers,” Janow said. “I donated them all to my PTA.”
The 1989 contestants had nothing to worry about: intimidating mega champions.
That all changed in 2003, when the five-game rule was dropped. The following year, 2004, Ken Jennings became the first and most formidable of the “Jeopardy!” monsters, winning over $2.5 million during its five months on the air.
In the process, many viewers became addicted. The question of when, or if, Jennings would go down kept “Jeopardy!” fans glued to their screens and increased ratings. But, some fans say, something may have been lost in the process.
“As a viewer, I find it less interesting when one player is so dominant,” said Christine O’Donnell of Elmwood Park, who herself is on “Jeopardy!” in September 2018.
“I like the competition of the show,” O’Donnell said. “When it comes to Final Jeopardy and they can’t be caught, it’s a little less interesting than when the other contestants are almost even.”
She is by the way used to be caught on Final Jeopardy. The category was 20th century novels. The clue, “‘I killed my brother’ is said towards the end of this 1952 book with a biblical title and a plot depicting a biblical story.”
She replied “Grapes of Wrath.” The correct answer was ‘East of Eden’.
Anyway, the right author: John Steinbeck.
“So I’m in LA, and I go to the Warner Bros. studio the next day and you literally visit the house where ‘East of Eden’ was filmed,” she said. “And then they show you the poster. It was painful.’
Back to basic?
In light of the recent spate of super champions, some have demanded a return of the five-game rule.
They worry that the show is powered by big wins and big personalities, rather than the simple, egalitarian love of trivia that many of them come to “Jeopardy!” lured. the first place.
They fear that ordinary viewers watching these braniacs whose knowledge seems so superhuman will say, “Jeopardy!” will not find again. ambitious – something they might be able to do too. They worry about the Moneyball types, number crunchers, who now say “Jeopardy!” follow. with their heads full of statistics and handicaps.
But others like the breakthrough stars: James Holzhauer with his gambler’s arrogance, Amy Schneider with her tattoos and her affability, Mattea Roach with her endearing chatter.
“I think it’s more recognizable to the average person,” said Florida’s Genevieve Sheehan, who was on the show in October 2009.
A star contestant, she says, is an added headline that reads the “Jeopardy!” profile in the culture. For her and many “Jeopardy!” fans, that’s always a win.
“‘Danger!’ has gotten a lot better in social media in the last few years, in terms of promoting his wins and sharing the contestants’ recognizable moments, and crazy moments,” said Sheehan. “They’ve gotten better at remembering memories. They’ve shared deeper statistics about the participants.”
Whether it’s “Danger!” is or isn’t another game for the viewers, it’s definitely a different game for the players.
Terry Wolfisch Cole of Connecticut, who appeared on the show on January 6 of this year, had watched in horror as Matt Amodio clinched one win after another. When he was finally defeated on October 11 – a few weeks before her scheduled shooting on November 1 – she recalls a sigh of relief. “I was rooting for him a bit,” she said. “When he lost, I cheered out loud and called my sister and said, ‘Oh my God, Matt lost!’ †
What she didn’t take into account is that “Jeopardy!” shows are recorded months before broadcast. When she arrived in California and walked onto the soundstage, she ran into a circular saw.
Shock of her life
“When I entered the room, America hadn’t yet met Amy Schneider, who had already won 23 games,” she said. “When they told us that, we thought they were kidding.”
There were not.
“I would have thought Matt was such an aberration,” she said. “I never thought for a moment that I would meet a super champion. I thought by the time I showed up it would be back to normal ‘Jeopardy!’ †
Terry lost that match. But not without a personal triumph: she beat Amy at a key moment, in the ‘Missouri Compromise’ category. “Amy misunderstood that,” Terry tells her website tellmeanotherstories.com.
“The question had to do with an old political party,” Cole said. Amy replied ‘Whig.’ I could buzz with ‘Federalist.’ If you watch the episode, you’ll see me grinning when it happens.”
Why the sudden surge of super champions? There are a number of possible explanations: not least purely coincidental.
But Cole notes that most recent champions have been young. And that can give them an advantage – if not in breadth of knowledge, then in speed on the all-important signaling device. Good reflexes, plus a childhood playing video games could make all the difference.
“A lot of the super champions are relatively young,” Cole said. “They’re not over 50. They might be more comfortable with a button under their thumb than someone in their 60s might.”
Jim Beckerman is an entertainment and culture reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to its insightful reports on how you spend your free time, subscribe or activate your digital account today.
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