Skip to main content

See also:

The Greatest Jeopardy Player of All Time. Who is....?

Greatest Player of all Time
Greatest Player of all Time

Three months ago, I wrote an article that in celebration of thirty years on the air (in its current incarnation) Jeopardy was launching the Battle of the Decades, where some of the greatest players in the history of the game would compete for one million dollars, and perhaps the title, greatest player ever. We are now rapidly approaching the final phase, the semi-final, where three champions will compete for that title.
In the last few months, forty-five of the greatest Jeopardy players in history have competed among themselves --- best players from 1984-1993, from 1994-2003, and 2004-2013. Admittedly, questions that have been at the front of my mind when I saw the competitors list will probably never be answered, such as, why did 1994 Tournament of Champions winner Ryan Holznagel change his name to 'Fritz', or why did Leslie Shannon and Claudia Perry, semi-finalists in 2002's Million Dollar Masters, not compete in the Ultimate Tournament of Champions not three years later? Since all three champions have been eliminated, we'll never know.
A more appropriate question might be, are competitors from earlier decades smarter than current champions.?That question has yet to be answered to my satisfaction. In the quarterfinal matches that took place last week, four of the winners were from the past ten years. But as anyone who watches Jeopardy regularly knows, high scores among non-winners also advance, and two of the wild-card slots went to competitors from the 1980's, Tom Cubbage, 1990 TOC winner, and Leszek Pawlowicz, 1993 TOC winner. (One thing has been proven, to win this tournament it helps to have won a Tournament of Champions; of the 15 quarter-finalists, 13 had won the Tournament of Champions).
Of course, for those of us who have been watching Jeopardy for some time, this tournament is basically marking time for two of the greatest players in history; Brad Rutter, currently the highest money winner of all time, and Ken Jennings, the all-time record holder for most consecutive games won. Both have essentially romped to the semi-final, winning both of the their earlier matches in runaways. (I have never been one of Jennings' biggest boosters, but I must admit, his quarterfinal victory, where he routed two other TOC winners, were very impressive.) Of course, both could be eliminated before they make it to the finals, and it's worth noting that Rutter has yet to correctly answer a Final Jeopardy! Could that come back to bite him in his semi-final?
Another, more pressing concern was, can the writers of this show write questions hard enough to stump these towers of intellect.. All indications so far are that they can. The Final Jeopardy's for the last few games have been some of the biggest brain-buster that I've ever seen since the Ultimate Tournament of Champions, nearly a decade ago, creating questions so hard they render champions useless. I'm still reeling over Friday's Final Jeopardy, which stumped the finalists... and myself, while asking for the question about The Book of Mormon that no one could wrap their head around. Only two competitors have managed to answer Final Jeopardy right both times--- Cubbage and Roger Craig, who holds the one day record for most money won.
I have no idea what kinds of answers and questions await us in the semi-finals and finals this weeks. Will there be a category referring to Those Darn Etruscans? Will youth prevail over experience? Can anyone that isn't a computer stop either Rutter or Jennings? For the first time in nearly a decade, Jeopardy has reaffirmed itself for being a game show that measures intellect, and showing that the unstoppable force does sometimes beat the immovable object.--- as long as that immovable object isn't Watson.