‘Peril!’ Continue to see winning streaks. Champions wonder why.

When Amy Schneider became the fourth contestant in the history of “Jeopardy!” to surpass $ 1 million in regular season earnings on Friday, she extended her winning streak to 28 games.

It was a remarkable milestone for Schneider, who last month became the woman with the most consecutive wins on the program.

His victory came as long winning streaks became more common on “Jeopardy!” – there even seem to be streaks of trails. Earlier this season, Matt Amodio won 38 straight games, the second longest run in series history. The player who beat him, Jonathan Fisher, ended up winning 11 straight games, a rare feat in itself.

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

The winning streak provided welcome excitement and audience increases for a show that struggled to pick a permanent replacement for Alex Trebek, its beloved longtime host, who died in November 2020. But they also did. raised new questions.

Is this trend just the result of chance? Are the competitors improving in their preparation? Did they learn to play the game? Is this an improvement over time, in the same way that the best runners and swimmers are able to break the records set by their predecessors? Could the clues be Easier?

“Behind the scenes, we spent a lot of time arguing about whether this was some sort of ‘new normal’ or if we just had an unusual windfall of shiny ‘Jeopardy!’ players, ”Michael Davies, the show’s executive producer, wrote in an email.

He dismissed the idea that the clues might get easier.

“I actually think the show can get more difficult,” Davies wrote, noting that the topic covers an increasingly wide range of material. “Let’s face it, so few people read the same books or watch the same TV shows. And we’ve massively diversified the story, the pop culture and culture material that we expect our players to compete on. “

Theories abound on the recent streak of big winners in the series. In interviews and emails, several recent champions and people writing about “Jeopardy! And obsessively studying it offered their thoughts.

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

Andy Saunders, who runs The Jeopardy! Fan, started to calculate the numbers and thinks the trend could be significant beyond this particular time. In a blog post on Friday, Saunders wrote that the average streak length started to increase during the 2010 and 2011 season, which he said could be the result of more intensive preparation on the part of the teams. competitors.

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 most money won in a single game.

Holzhauer’s strategy – starting with high-value indices, chasing the daily double, and making risky bets – has proven to be a win-win for him, and some competitors have taken note. Amodio, for example, said he copied Holzhauer’s approach of starting with the big currency indices at the bottom of the table. But Schneider did the opposite, taking a more traditional approach that she called a “backlash.” vs James Holzhauer.

Holzhauer’s take on the current trend? A product of chance.

“People always assume everything is a paradigm shift,” Holzhauer wrote in an email, “when it’s actually pretty normal for results to cluster occasionally. “

One theory argues that the pandemic may have played a role, causing delays that increased the delay – and potentially study time – for applicants after being invited to appear on the show.

“You had a whole bunch of people who knew they were going to be on the show and could spend a lot of extra time getting ready,” Saunders noted.

Amodio and Schneider were two of those people. Amodio, a PhD student in computer science at Yale, was originally scheduled to compete in April 2020, but due to pandemic cancellations, began recording a year later than originally planned.

At that time, Amodio said in an interview, he focused on pop culture, an area of ​​weak knowledge for him. He listened to pop music he had never heard before (discovering Dua Lipa in the process) and watched samples from a wide range of current television (including “The Good Place”, which made him feel earned the correct answer on a hint of $ 1,000 in his 13th play).

Schneider was invited to the show in the fall of 2020, but the registration was delayed and she only competed about a year later, which gave her more time to practice with the clues. from previous games and correcting gaps in her knowledge (“like forgetting which Brontë’s sister was which,” she said).

But she said in an interview that she was skeptical that the extra study time was a big factor. She considers a well-prepared candidate to be someone who has long been an intellectually curious person – not someone who squeezes in before the test. “You just have to live a life where you are learning things all the time,” she said.

Fisher, who beat Amodio, had little time to prepare: There was only about a week between receiving the call inviting him to appear on the show and arriving. at the studio.

Another explanation still considered is the recent increase in the number of applicants. Shortly before the pandemic hit, the show introduced a new entrance test that potential applicants can take at any time, rather than limiting it to specific times. In a recent article for The Ringer exploring the sequence trend, Claire McNear reported that before the introduction of the new review, “Jeopardy!” had about 70,000 applicants each year; with the new exam he gets an average of about 125,000 per year.

The show has also replaced regional in-person follow-up rounds with virtual rounds, a change that Cory Anotado, a game show reporter who will appear on the show as a nominee this week, sees an important factor.

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

The hit streak comes at a time of upheaval for “Jeopardy!” The search for someone to succeed Trebek escalated into controversy after McNear reported that chosen successor Mike Richards had made offensive comments about women on his podcast several years earlier (Richards stepped down as host and then left the show altogether). Ken Jennings – who holds the record for longest streak since winning 74 games in 2004 – and sitcom actress Mayim Bialik have shared hosting duties since, but the show has rescheduled for more. late official appointment of a permanent host for the regular season.

McNear, the author of a history of the show in 2020 titled “Answers as Questions,” wrote in the article that removing the five-day cap in 2003 was “an explicit ploy by the executive producer. of the time, Harry Friedman to generate interest in the show, “and noted that the show’s ratings have increased this season compared to last season.

When asked if it was possible for the series to try to create streaks, for example, pitting champions against weaker opponents, Davies said, “I can assure you it is not. the case.”

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

It’s also difficult to predict how successful a candidate might be based on what’s on paper. An essential part of a “Jeopardy!” »The sequence is not linked to knowing or recalling information but to the ability to use the buzzer in the specific environment of the studio.

As the defending champion, Schneider said she quickly learned that she has a significant advantage over newcomers as she is already comfortable and quick with the device.

“Now that I’m on a roll, I’m almost surprised it hasn’t happened more often. She declared.

James C. Tibbs