This show is delivering drama, laughs, and fierce competition every night. What is ABC’s Jeopardy Masters? Yes, the newest tournament is working on every level.
This tournament is nothing new for the classic game show. Jeopardy! has been airing prime-time tournaments featuring excellent players since 1990, before several of players now competing in ABC’s Jeopardy! Masters were even born.
The most-recent—besides the annual National College Championship—was the Jeopardy! Greatest of All Time tournament in early 2020.
That was quite a fun watch, and a once-in-a-lifetime event, with Alex Trebek hosting and the (then) three most-successful players battling for the title.
The GOAT winner himself, Ken Jennings, is now hosting Jeopardy! Masters (ABC, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday at 8, this week and next).
Ken Jennings’ history and current willingness to cross a picket line deserve scrutiny.
Behind the podium, though, he’s a fantastic Jeopardy! host, able to throw out banter and a few barbs while also handling all of the business smoothly and efficiently. That rapport and comfort might have something to do with how much experience he had standing behind the contestant podiums.
What’s interesting to me is that there are people just can’t stand him as host, or think he’s doing a terrible job; others can’t stand the show’s other permanent host, Mayim Bialik.
Of course, neither of them ever will be Alex Trebek, who hosted for 37 years, carving out a space in game show history that is impossible to fill.
What is clear is that the game still works with both Ken and Mayim hosting, just as it even worked with Beauty and the Geek’s host trying and ultimately failing to give himself the job.
That’s because the core Jeopardy! format is strong enough to endure across time, and to evolve with the world and its players. And Jeopardy! Masters is showcasing the game’s current strengths—it’s the show at its best right now.
Four years ago, people were accusing James Holzhauer of breaking the game by hopping around the game board, grabbing high-dollar clues and searching for the Daily Doubles.
One year ago, people were criticizing and commenting on Mattea Roach’s mannerisms, as if players are required to be statues behind the podiums.
Thankfully, that criticism hasn’t deterred these two Jeopardy! contestants from playing their way and having fun. Mattea told Vulture:
If you’ve been watching the show for decades, when somebody does something different than the norm, it’s going to seem a little weird and perhaps distracting. It’s not good or bad. One of the things that makes the game interesting is the people who are playing aren’t professional game-show contestants. We’re regular people who have real jobs.
That comfort with the familiar may also explain the bigoted backlash over the show’s queer representation. That has not deterred producers, who continue to cast a variety of people, and now having a trans contestant or a person who uses they/them pronouns is just Jeopardy!, because Jeopardy! is real people.
Well, really smart people—and mostly very white people, something Maya Angelou noted, and Alex Trebek defended, back in 1995. The show seems to still have the same issue, so there’s room for improvement in casting.
As a tournament and format, I like Jeopardy! Masters better than Jeopardy! Greatest of All Time, mostly because it’s expanded in terms of episodes, games, and players.
Airing it over three weeks makes it into an event, and also emulates the daily fun of watching Jeopardy!.
For this current tournament, producers have assembled six very different, but all successful and dynamic players: Matt Amodio, Sam Buttrey, Andrew He, James Holzhauer, Mattea Roach, and Amy Schneider.
They’re well-cast, not only for their impressive knowledge, but for their different personalities and game play.
Amy has a casual, laid-back approach while Sam pounds away violently on his buzzer; some players bet everything in the Daily Doubles or in Final Jeopardy, while others are more pragmatic. Also, Steve Martin is always ready with a joke. Okay, I know Sam Buttrey is not Steve Martin, but there’s quite a resemblance, right?
This group is skilled and friendly enough to exchange quips in between responses. Twice in the first game, James Holzhauer buzzed in before Mattea Roach, stealing a question about Canada from the Canadian player.
Some might find this off-putting behavior, though to me it reads as friendly competition, a love of the game and of each other as players.
They’re competing in what I think is a terrific format. For the first two weeks, seven total evenings, we get two games, each with three of the players, remixed into different groups, with the second episode having the the previous episode’s two winners facing off against each other.
After those seven games, the two players with the fewest match points will be eliminated, winning $75,000 and $50,000. Part of the fun they’re having may just be the knowledge that no one leaves with less than $50,000.
The four remaining players will play each other in every possible combination over four games, and then the four-place contestant is out, winning $100,000.
Then the final three face off in two games on May 24. Their match points will be reset, so any of those three can win; no one will be in an impossible deficit.
In each game, the first-place player gets three match points, while second place gets one point, and third place gets zero.
Using match points instead of points earned in each game—what are usually actual dollar amounts—ensures no one runs away with the competition in just one or two games.
That gives all of these excellent players multiple opportunities to show off their knowledge and entertain us with their approach to the game. And all of them—Ken included—are just a joy to watch play together.
Points first replaced dollars in that 1990, 12-week summer tournament Super Jeopardy!, which also had four contestants on stage at once.
Two years later, in 1992, Jeopardy! was the subject of an entire The Golden Girls episode. In that episode of the sitcom, Dorothy is brilliant at trivia (“I intend to win this”) but ultimately not selected as a contestant because she’s too conceited and arrogant during a mock game.
The person running the audition tells Dorothy, “On Jeopardy, we don’t have any celebrity stars as contestants. Every day citizens, those are our stars. Those are the people our viewers care about, identify with, root for.”
Jeopardy! Masters and its players make that easy, and while the show can continue to evolve—and be more inclusive in its casting—and it’s just fun to watch them play together every night.
Tuesday 16th of May 2023
I do wish they'd been able to add three episodes so that the first round could have included a game with every possible three-player combination of the six players. Either that, or use the ten episodes they had to play all combinations, and declare a winner based on that. A seven-episode first round feels unbalanced.
Wednesday 17th of May 2023
That would have been interesting, but after the first two episodes, the winners from the previous episodes face off in the second episode of the night. That means one of those two winners will, at best, only get 1 match point. Without that, you could have an even more runaway point total than James already has.
Tuesday 16th of May 2023
I agree, Jeopardy! Masters is SO much fun! I love all the players. Even James. They're serious competitors but also seem to be having a lot of fun.
I'm really glad Ken Jennings is hosting. I do not care for Mayim Bialik. Ken is a natural, and Mayim is an actor playing the role of game show host.