Who Will Win the Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions?
It’s trivia TV’s March Madness. We make our predictions
Jeopardy’s post-Alex Trebek era reaches its apogee this week, as the 2022 Tournament of Champions begins. This has been an unusual 18 months for Jeopardy, as the show has not only had to adjust to its new host Ken Jennings but the rise of the super-champions. In quick succession, 2021/2022 saw Matt Amodio win 38 games, Amy Schneider win 40, and Mattea Roach win 23, in addition to several others who put together lengthy winning streaks. Anticipation for the 2022 TOC is probably the highest it’s ever been; with an expanded format and semifinal byes given to those three players, the event will last a full three weeks, with a first-to-three finals format that may last a full seven games.
This is Jeopardy’s World Series, its March Madness. A Second Chance Tournament has been running for the past two weeks, both to build anticipation for the TOC and to acknowledge the obvious: very strong players, who might otherwise have gone on lengthy runs of their own, were unlucky enough to draw someone who was on a first-name basis with the Sony Pictures security guards by the time their episode taped. The prize for winning one of the five-day heats was a slot in the expanded 21-player TOC. Jessica Stephens and Rowan Ward join the field in the quarterfinals. Ward’s performance in the SCT was especially dominant, as they displayed a knack for aggressive play and bold wagering and easily ran away from their competition. (Full disclosure: Ward, who uses they/them pronouns, is a friend of mine; I’ve tried to be as objective as possible in this preview.)
So what do we know from these contestants’ prior performance about their chances to make a deep run in the TOC? Do any of them stand a chance of knocking off the Big Three? Let’s take a look at the quarterfinal games and try to make some predictions.
October 31: Ryan Long vs. Megan Wachspress vs. Maureen O’Neil
Long, who won sixteen games in May-June 2022, is the beneficiary of a good draw here. Wachspress and O’Neil are the two TOC contestants with the lowest Coryat scores (roughly speaking, the total dollar value of all the clues a contestant gets correct, minus the ones they get wrong, without the value of Daily Doubles or Final Jeopardy included in the equation). Barring something unexpected, Long is the odds-on favorite.
Prediction: Ryan Long
November 1: Jonathan Fisher vs. Andrew He vs. Christine Whelchel
Fisher won eleven games, but He’s five-game streak only ended when he unluckily came up against Amy Schneider, whose long run started with a come-from-behind win in Final Jeopardy. Statistically, He is the strongest player here, though Whelchel’s well-chronicled health battle might be the most outstanding achievement of all: she’s now cancer-free, a better prize than a Jeopardy win could ever be.
Prediction: Andrew He
November 2: Brian Chang vs. Tyler Rhode vs. Margaret Shelton
Three players with very similar profiles. Shelton knocked off Whelchel and Rhode defeated 11-game winner Jonathan Fisher, while Chang is notable for who he lost to: fellow TOC player Zach Newkirk, who first appeared on the show in June 2020, was unable to make it back to LA due to COVID-era travel restrictions, and finally returned in January 2021, in an unusual game that pitted two still-unbeaten multi-day champions against each other.
Prediction: Brian Chang
November 3: Courtney Shah vs. Rowan Ward vs. John Focht
Does momentum matter in the TOC? We could find out during this game, as Ward, fresh off a romp through the Second Chance field, faces Shah (seven wins in June 2021) and Focht, who won four games in February of that year. Although Focht’s raw numbers were near-elite, he could be rusty – which could provide Ward all the opportunity they need to continue their blazing-hot streak. Ward’s performance in the first game of the SCT finals wasn’t just a lucky game: they posted a $32,000 Coryat score, one of the top 60 Jeopardy performances of all time.
Prediction: Rowan Ward
November 4: Eric Ahasic vs. Jaskaran Singh vs. Jackie Kelly
It’s tempting to discount the College Championship winner, especially against a player whose raw stats are as strong as Ahasic, but Singh isn’t just any college kid: he’s a former NAQT national high school quiz bowl winner and a decorated player on the college circuit, the only player in this field never to miss a Final Jeopardy, and someone whose skill set lines up perfectly with the more highbrow nature of the material in this tournament. An upset is extremely possible here.
Prediction: Jaskaran Singh
November 7: Zach Newkirk vs. Jessica Stephens vs. Sam Buttrey
Newkirk is in the unusual position of having an extremely long layoff between taping dates, as noted above, while Buttrey is an interesting case as the winner of the inaugural Professors’ Tournament. There’s obviously no precedent for what the winner of that tournament might be expected to do in the TOC. While this game could go either way, the numbers slightly favor Buttrey.
Prediction: Sam Buttrey
November 9 (predicted): Amy Schneider (bye) vs. Ryan Long vs. Andrew He
It’s hard to argue against Schneider. Along with Matt Amodio, her average Coryat numbers dwarf the field, and she won 40 games, good for second all-time behind Ken Jennings himself.
With that said, here’s conspiracy theory #1: Long guest-hosted a video category on a recent “Celebrity Jeopardy,” an honor not usually reserved for mere superchampions. Could the show have been showing their hand in regard to a star-making TOC run?
Prediction: Amy Schneider
November 10 (predicted): Matt Amodio vs. Brian Chang vs. Rowan Ward
Amodio picks up a tricky draw here in Ward, whose $22,400 average career Coryat ranks third among all TOC players. There’s a bit of a strategic disadvantage in play, too, as TOC contestants know exactly what Amodio is inclined to do, and most of them have adjusted their own play style to reflect that. Nonetheless, you don’t win 38 games without doing something right–as great as it would be to see Ward’s miracle run continue, Amodio advances.
Prediction: Matt Amodio
November 11 (predicted): Mattea Roach vs. Jaskaran Singh vs. Sam Buttrey
What to make of this semifinal? Roach is probably the “weakest” of the three byes, while Singh and Buttrey both come from feeder tournaments instead of the regular game, where strategy is different and making statistical comparisons isn’t as easy. Buttrey’s skill is his accuracy (he’s correct over 96% of the time he buzzes in), while Singh has the vaunted academic quiz bowl background.
Conspiracy theory #2: an exhibition game between Amodio, Schneider, and Roach will air on Election Day, a day before the actual semifinals start. Are the producers subtly implying that one or more of the three may not make it to the finals?
Prediction: Jaskaran Singh
The finals format copies the one used in the 2020 “Jeopardy!: The Greatest of All Time” tournament: first to three wins, up to seven games. My gut tells me that Amodio may suffer from a bit of first-mover disadvantage in the TOC; shock and awe was the name of his game during his initial run, whereas Schneider knew all his moves by the time she recorded her 40-game run. Singh might give them both a scare if the material leans highbrow, but after a grueling series that may very well go the distance, Schneider reigns supreme.
Predicted TOC winner: Amy Schneider