Betting Strategy 101

Contestants succumb to shoddy wagering

Published December 10, 2023

Welcome back to my weekly rundown from the world of Jeopardy!

This week was the second-to-last full week of strike replacement programming, with Fall 2023’s Champions Wildcard Hearts bracket in the middle of the quarterfinals. Meanwhile, on the Celebrity Jeopardy side, we saw the last quarterfinal, with Kyra Sedgwick battling Mo Rocca and Amanda Seales.

Each heading contains a link to my daily write-up over at The Jeopardy! Fan

Champions Wildcard, Hearts Bracket, Quarterfinal #4, Monday, Dec. 4 

Finn Corrigan was in a good position early in the Double Jeopardy round, which got better after Kristen Thomas-McGill lost $3,000 on the game’s last Daily Double. However, Julia Markham Cameron—who won fans both in her initial appearance and this week with her myriad facial expressions—jumped into a lead she would not relinquish after picking up five correct responses in an eight-clue span. She even got two correct in a Double Jeopardy math category, despite expressing no love for math.

Final Jeopardy was in 20th Century Novels: The Atlanta History Center says this novel was “both beloved and condemned almost from the moment of its publication” in 1936. Finn made a small bet, likely hoping for a more difficult clue. But apparently Julia wasn’t bluffing about not liking math: She wagered a round $7,000 instead of an $8,201 cover bet. Had Finn bet big and written Gone With the Wind instead of “hi Mom and Dad,” he could have won; as it happened, though, Julia responded correctly and advanced to the semifinals.

Quarterfinal #5, Tuesday, Dec. 5

While Laura Portwood-Stacer led at halftime, her struggles with buzzer timing combined with Matt Mierswa’s missed True Daily Double to boost Andrew Chaikin to a runaway victory.

Many online were impressed that all three contestants pulled the correct response to this Final Jeopardy clue in 2020s Television: The title locale of this series is really the Belford, dating to 1908 & located at 86th & Broadway on NYC’s Upper West Side. The Belford serves as the Arconia from Only Murders in the Building– and poetically, ABC will run the show’s first season on Tuesdays starting in January, with Celebrity Jeopardy as its lead-in.

Quarterfinal #6, Wednesday, Dec. 6

Daily Doubles proved to be crucial in this game: Ed Coulson’s correct response and Patrick Hume’s wrong one created a $6,000 swing that was the difference in this game, with Ed taking a $4,400 lead into Final Jeopardy.

That category was Famous Names: Subject of a 2003 film, his 1947 obituary said he fathered at least 100 & died of a heart attack at 14, at a California ranch. Kate Freeman provided Internet comedians with joke fodder with her response of Will Rogers (“he also apparently never met a woman he didn’t like”), but Ed’s correct response of the famous 1930s horse Seabiscuit saw him through to the semifinals. (This, despite missing the U in the horse’s name—you’re allowed to misspell Final Jeopardy as long as it’s still phonetically correct).

Quarterfinal #7, Thursday, Dec. 7

Though he struggled early, writer and Canadian expat Scott Shewfelt used a True Daily Double to put himself into the driver’s seat midway through Double Jeopardy, giving him the lead over Yungsheng Wang and early leader Robin Lozano.

Languages was the category for this Final Jeopardy: Since it can make someone “Japanese laugh as heartily as a Dane,” Lillian Gish saw film as an aesthetic this, the name of a language. The syntax is odd, but writing about silent film in 1929 for Encyclopedia Britannica, Gish indeed referred to it as “an aesthetic Esperanto.” Yungsheng was able to identify the correct language, advancing to the semifinals over a very disappointed Scott.

Quarterfinal #8, Friday, Dec. 8

In a game that saw an incredible 15 lead changes, including five clues in a row between Carmela Chan and Jon Spurney, it was Gary Hollis who took control of the game midway through Double Jeopardy. He rose from third place with 10 correct responses in a 12-clue span, including both Daily Doubles – on which he bet conservatively, leaving everyone in contention.

The week’s final clue was in Ancient History: Before visiting Achilles’ tomb, this man threw his spear onto the ground in Asia & declared the continent “spear-won.” While Carmela picked an invader from the east in Genghis Khan, Gary and Jon correctly named an invader from the west—Alexander the Great—as Gary, the chemistry professor (and Professors Tournament alumnus) advanced to the Round of 9.

Celebrity Jeopardy!, Quarterfinal #9, Wednesday, Dec. 6

This week’s game featured Kyra Sedgwick (The Closer), Mo Rocca (CBS Sunday Morning), and Amanda Seales (Insecure). I was expecting Mo to have the advantage in this week’s game, as he picked up over $20,000 before Final Jeopardy in a 2015 loss. He did not disappoint, holding a wire-to-wire lead in this one.

Though she was taking lots of chances, with 13 incorrect responses throughout the game, Kyra did at least correctly answer a clue about her husband Kevin Bacon bribing wedding DJs not to play “Footloose.” Her 17 correct responses also meant that she had enough money to play Final on her own.

Meanwhile, I was left confounded by some of Amanda Seales’s strategic choices, one of which was especially fateful. After finding a Daily Double in The Harlem Renaissance late in Triple Jeopardy, with Mo holding a $22,500-$8,100 lead, Amanda—even after Ken encouraged her to be aggressive—chose to bet just $1,000. Needless to say, Mo took a lock game into Final.

An unusually difficult Celebrity Final, in the category Applied Geometry: Thomas Hales proved hexagonal structures are the most compact way to fill a plane, a centuries-old theory based on the behavior of these. Amanda’s Triple Jeopardy timidity haunted her, as she was the only one to correctly name bees. Mo’s runaway victory advanced him to January’s semifinals, and kept his chosen charity, the Inner-City Scholarship Fund, in the running for the million-dollar grand prize. Amanda’s charity, the Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors supporting Grantmakers for Girls of Color and Kyra’s, the Food Bank for NYC, both receive $30,000.

The Celebrity tournament will take a few weeks off now for Christmas. When it comes back it’ll switch days, with the semifinals and finals scheduled to air over the first four Tuesdays in January.

Other notes from the week:

  • There will be 27 players in this winter’s Tournament of Champions: The eight three-time winners from last season—Yogesh Raut, Sean McShane, Emmett Stanton, Jake DeArruda, Brian Hangar, Melissa Klapper, Jared Watson, and Kevin Belle—all received the news that they’ll be bypassing Champions Wildcard and going straight to the Tournament of Champions via in-person interviews on their local affiliates (and a surprise message from Ken Jennings). 
  • Next week features just five games as the strike replacement programming enters its final full week; Monday is the last quarterfinal of the Hearts bracket, with the semifinals Tuesday through Thursday and game #1 of the final airing Friday.

Andy Saunders covers Jeopardy! daily as site administrator for The Jeopardy! Fan. He is also a founding archivist of The J! Archive. His weekly recap appears at Questionist every Sunday.