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Will the Jeopardy! ‘Greatest of All Time’ Tournament Really Tell Us Anything?

December 10th, 2019 · No Comments · Jeopardy!

This week, competition began taping among the three men playing in what will be a prime-time event for the game show “Jeopardy!

Astonishingly, the show seems more popular now than at any time in its 36-season run — in part because of James Holzhauer, who won 32 games last spring and and racked up unheard of totals in prize money — $2.7 million in 33 games.

The tournament likely will take advantage of Holzhauer’s cash successes, which figure to drive viewers to the tournament meant to identify the greatest player of all time (often abbreviated as “GOAT”).

The format is simple: The three players with the highest cash-winning totals in the history of the “answer and question” game are competing for a $1 million first prize, with the laurels (and bragging rights) going to the man who first wins three games.

Thus, the competition could last three days, or it could go seven, if each of the three wins twice.

Setting up what would be an all-the-marbles Game 7.

It is a capital idea, to bring in the three highest money winners in the game’s history, with the results to be broadcast on ABC beginning January 7.

But … is it fair? Will it really tell us what we want to know — who is Best All Time? Or will it be more like “Who Is Best in December of 2019?”

Consider the contestants:

Ken Jennings won a record 74 consecutive Jeopardy! episodes in 2004. He was a phenomena, the Holzhauer of the previous decade. But Jennings is 45. He was 30 when he set his record.

Brad Rutter, who won more money ($4,876,036) than any individual in the history of the game — he first appeared on the show in 2000 — when champions were retired after winning five consecutive shows. He later won various special-competition Jeopardy! events, taking his franchise winnings past Jennings. Rutter now is 41; he was 22 when he first won a game.

James Holzhauer, a self-described “professional gambler, revolutionized the game this year with seemingly reckless wagers and relentless hunts for “daily doubles.” The top 16 Jeopardy! single-game winning totals (led by a $131,127 performance) all belong to Holzhauer. He is believed to be 35.

So, “anyone can win?”

These guys are so good, that the outcome should come down to “who ‘rings in’ fastest.” And that would seem to be an advantage for Holzhauer who is 10 years younger than Jennings, the man who figures to be his main competition, and six years younger than Rutter.

Age matters in Jeopardy! because humans’ reactions begin to slow once they are out of their 30s. (Not many pro athletes are playing after their 40th birthday.) Did I mention both Jennings and Rutter are in their 40s?

Holzhauer, however, is in his prime, and he showed a mastery of “ringing in” — the process by which a person is allowed to answer the question, during his 32-day run, allowing him to dominate the board and hoard all the money, winning on average about $70,000 per show on which he appeared.

In a game in which a single winning game total might be $15,000.

I see this as a guy with a physical advantage in what is considered a mental game. Jennings might be able to answer as many questions, but how sharp will he be on the ringer? Will he get it just right, or will he be a bit too quick or too slow?

Holzhauer figures he is likely to win, as can be seen in his Twitter postings in this story.

I hope to be able to see this, a month hence. In France, we cannot get Jeopardy! on television because it is not a network show. We can stream it live, but it tends to appear late in the evening, French time.

Anyway, this could come down to who can dominate the board, and all other things being equal, Holzhauer’s 35-year-old synapses seem likely to be quicker than those of the 45-year-old Jennings.

I hope I’m wrong. Jennings is witty and stylish; he sliced his way through Jeopardy! as if he were wielding a rapier. Holzhauer? More of a blunt-force, shock-and-awe force.

I would like to see the old guy win. I don’t expect it.


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