Ken Jennings can relax.
On Monday, the reigning “Jeopardy!” contestant Matt Amodio lost his 39th game, leaving Jennings’s No. 1 hall-of-fame spot safe. Amodio, a Ph.D. student in computer science at Yale, had the second-longest streak in the game show’s history, earning him $1.5 million in prize money.
Since his debut on the show on July 21, viewers grew attached to following Amodio’s streak, turning him into the latest “Jeopardy!” darling. Amodio was less aggressive in his wagering compared with James Holzhauer, the professional sports bettor who dominated the show in 2019, but he lasted longer. Amodio, who ranks third in total regular-season winnings, had many more games to go to rival Jennings’s 74 wins.
The episode marked another behind-the-scenes transition for the show. It was the first episode following the departure of Mike Richards, the television executive whose short stint as the new “Jeopardy!” host imploded over offensive comments he had made on a podcast. Richards stepped down as host after taping five episodes, then left his role as executive producer less than two weeks later.
Monday’s pretaped episode was executive produced by Michael Davies, a game-show veteran who developed the original American version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” and agreed to step in temporarily after Richards’s exit.
Amodio’s streak was likely a relief for the executives behind the show after weeks of attention around the struggle to replace Alex Trebek, who died last year after hosting the show for more than 36 years. Some of the games during Amodio’s streak were hosted by Mayim Bialik, an interim host who is vying for the full-time job but faces criticism of some of her positions, including her questioning of vaccines and an affiliation with a disputed brain-health supplement.
Amodio came in third during Monday’s match; Jonathan Fisher, an actor, narrowly won the game, with Jessica Stephens, a statistical research specialist, following close behind. Amodio missed the Final Jeopardy clue, pushing him way behind his competitors, with $5,600 at the end of the game, compared to Fisher’s $29,200. (The clue: Nazi Germany annexed this nation and divided it into regions of the Alps and the Danube; the Allies later divided it into four sectors. The correct response: “What is Austria?”)
As Amodio built up a string of wins, he amassed a large following on social media, where he answered fans’ questions, shared behind-the-scenes details and bantered with his fellow “Jeopardy!” champions. His clue-answering strategy of beginning every response with the word “what” rather than other question words such as “who,” which he has said he does to focus on finding the correct response, sparked a lively online debate around the game show’s rules.
“I always wanted to be a ‘Jeopardy!’ champion, and I accomplished that,” Amodio said in a news release. “I know going into every bar trivia game that I play that I’m going to come in with a little intimidation factor.”