For four days, we watched a hypothetical matchup between three of Jeopardy’s brightest contenders play out in reality as we gazed upon the greatest and most accomplished contestants in American game show history compete on one of the best trivia game shows ever devised. For four days, we witnessed Ken Jennings, Brad Rutter and James Holzhauer face a deluge of daunting questions (488 to be more precise) over the course of eight exhausting consecutive games. For four days, we saw Ken Jennings slowly claw and climb his way to the Jeopardy! summit to claim the title of the all-time Greatest Jeopardy! champion. Let’s delve into seven crucial reasons on why I used the appropriately (albeit wordy) hyperbolic headline and why we will never see another perfectly designed and executed game show special like this on American television.
Started With A Bang
Jeopardy! had newcomers and lifelong fans tuned into the multi-match event from the intro to the closing. The first game of the Greatest Of All Time Tournament started with a fanfare-filled opening of epic proportions by introducing a brand new theme that wasn’t even teased in its promos. The incredible new theme music served as the backdrop for announcing Johnny Gilbert briefly highlighting each of the former champions’ claim-to-Jeopardy-elite-fame including Jennings’ 74-game winning streak, Rutter’s 5-0 undefeated tournament streak and Holzhauer breaking a score of Jeopardy! records such as setting the top five records for the largest one-day winnings total. At the end of the intro, we transition to the modified set that’s primed for primetime play with its gold-striped floor, the gilded-block podium design and the starry night background.
Between rounds while the three champs briefly recessed, a few of the game breaks were filled with excellent interview questions by Alex Trebek, considering the hundreds of questions he has already asked them throughout the years, and emotional highlight reels synopsizing each players’ poignant Jeopardy! journey.
The World Series of Jeopardy!
This is also the first game show tournament that truly felt like and had the same high energy, seriousness and nail-biting suspense of a World Series/Stanley Cup/NBA Finals championship sporting event with its best-of-seven format, down to staggering the game days in a non-consecutive format throughout the two-week event and shoving new episodes of hit shows like black-ish to a later timeslot. The GOAT tournament even emulated the staggering ratings reception of a sports championship series. In fact, the four hourlong, primetime Jeopardy! episodes (14.42 million, 14.87 million, 15.55 million, 13.55 million) near topped the total viewership of the first four games of the 2019 NBA Finals (15.14 million, 13.51 million, 14.05 million, 13.44 million).
Sadly, much like the revamped theme music, we will probably never see this specific tournament format on the show again in our lifetime.
Daily Doubles Defined The Game
In the midst of the intense and competitive gameplay, including a flawless Jeopardy! round in the first game of Match 1, where no incorrect responses were given which set the tone and high standard for the entire match, the Daily Doubles were the true difference-making game changers in the series. Because this was a genuine ultimate tournament of Jeopardy! champions, I believe very few viewers were surprised that the champs would be going for True Daily Doubles, or risking all their points on a Daily Double clue, especially when competing against aggressive bettors like Holzhauer. What surprised and excited me the most was the increased frequency of True Daily Doubles.
In fact, 23 of the 24 Daily Double wagers were all-in. Also watching Jennings and Rutter bogart the special clues throughout a majority of the tournament and keeping them scarce from Holzhauer proved how much Holzhauer relied on finding those particular clues to dominate his competition during his regular season run. The only moments where Holzhauer was truly in control of his own destiny heading into the second half Final Jeopardy! rounds were in Match 2, where he cashed in on a massive 13,600-point True Daily Double wager in the first half Double Jeopardy! round (nearly quadrupling Jennings’ second place score) and gained an early large lead in the second half Double Jeopardy! round with an effective 8,400-point True Daily Double wager, and in the middle of the second Double Jeopardy! round in Match 4 where he closed the cumulative gap between him and Jennings with a longshot 20,200-point True Daily Double wager heading into the last Final Jeopardy! round of the match.
While Holzhauer struggled to find the elusive Daily Doubles, the luck of the draw was more on Jennings’ side as he managed to correctly answer seven out of the eight Daily Doubles he revealed. Unfortunately, although Rutter found two more DD clues than Jennings, Rutter was not as successful in capitalizing on discovering them.
Brad Rutter’s Surprising Struggles
In a high-stakes environment where Rutter statistically always prevails, given his untarnished tournament record, he had a very difficult time getting off the starting blocks in most of his games. Answering only a paltry four out of ten Daily Double clues correctly, Rutter’s issues can be traced back to one key factor: the dreaded Daily Doubles. Ever since he missed a crucial True Daily Double clue at the top of the first Double Jeopardy! round in Match 1 which cost him 4,000 points (which would have put him 200 points ahead of first place Holzhauer at the time), he was simply unable to regain momentum for the entire tournament. He trailed at the end of nearly every single round except for one and even knocked himself out of contention in Match 2 when he closed the second Double Jeopardy! round with -3,600 points. To add insult to injury, déjà vú kicked in full force when he managed to uncannily select a Daily Double as the first clue of the round… go all-in… and answer incorrectly, dropping him back down to zero… on four separate instances.
You could see the dejected and defeated look on his face each time he missed a True Daily Double clue that he desperately needed to keep his head above the torrential sea of ferocious, no-holds-barred competition and it was painful to watch at times. It especially didn’t help when Holzhauer playfully poked fun at Rutter’s goose egg first half Game 4 score. Although Rutter hesitantly laughed it off, you could tell that flabbergasting and unnecessary jab irritated him (and viewers like myself as well). It wasn’t easy watching the most disappointing performance in Rutter’s illustrious Jeopardy! career unfold, but at least we can take solace in the fact that Rutter adds his quarter-million dollar consolation prize to his $5 million game show winnings.
👏🏾 KEN 👏🏾 JENNINGS 👏🏾 CAME 👏🏾 TO PLAY
Entering the GOAT tournament as the only superchampion standing on stage sans a championship win, Jennings came into this contestant with something to prove. Not only did Jennings bring back his swift ring-in reflexes and vast general knowledge range to the competition, he switched from his typical trademark wagering strategy to round off his total to the nearest thousand to matching Holzhauer’s all-in bold betting style to stay ahead of the game. Out of the eight Daily Doubles selected, he answered seven correctly and the lone incorrect response occurred in an ultimately inconsequential third clue of the second Jeopardy round in Match 4 where he lost only 1,000 points. This was by far the most intense and unnerved I had ever seen him play in any Jeopardy! event. To see him make and earn clutch large wagers and end first half Final Jeopardy! rounds with 40,000, 50,000 and 60,000-point scores was astonishing, to say the least.
There were two moments where you could feel how badly Jennings wanted to win this tournament: in Match 1 after he breathed a heavy sigh of relief upon hearing from Trebek that his first Final Jeopardy! response was correct and when he ended his prerecorded testimonial by saying “I’ve always wanted to win one. I would really love one more crack at this. I really want to win this.” Although I initially believed and predicted that Rutter would make this sixth straight tournament victory given the historic precedence, it was absolutely amazing and heart-warming to see Jennings finally get one under his belt and be crowned “the greatest Jeopardy! champion of all time” – and in arguably the biggest competition of his game show career no less.
Rainbow of Emotions
From elation to disappointment to amusement to nail-biting nervousness to bittersweetness, these are only a handful of the rich range of emotions I felt while watching the tournament. It was just so much fun to not only watch top-tier trivia titans endure this grueling contest, it was great to see how much Alex Trebek thoroughly enjoyed the competition as well considering the rough year he has had with his ongoing battle with pancreatic cancer, and to see people who typically wouldn’t tune in to the regular syndicated shows watch the GOAT Tournament in shock and awe. The moment that I imagined would make a lot of people realize that this was sort of the end of an era was when Alex Trebek stated in Match 4 during one of the interviews that this would be the final time we would see any of these three players on that stage. It felt like I was watching the series finale of Jeopardy! It truly hit home that this was a once-in-a-lifetime event that will never happen again.
If I were to honestly and objectively review this tournament, I would have given it perfect 10. This was brilliantly and flawlessly executed by executive producer Harry Friedman and the rest of the production staff of Jeopardy! and it was a great way for the show to ring in the new year. In case you missed any of the action (first of all, SHAME ON YOU), go to Hulu or ABC.com to watch full episodes of the four matches.