It’s not THAT familiar to American visitors

Tough Final clues pave the path to the Tournament of Champions

Published February 25, 2024

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

This Friday, we reached the event all Jeopardy! fans have been waiting for: the 31st Tournament of Champions. But before that, we saw the final four games of the Champions Wildcard.

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

Winter 2024 Champions Wildcard, Group 2, Semifinal #2, Monday, Feb. 19

The Montreal contestant streak hit four games, as Diandra D’Alessio jumped out to an early advantage in this semifinal. Then Deb Bilodeau nabbed a True Daily Double, and the game settled into a two-player battle. (After early buzzing troubles, Taylor Clagett never got his game going.) Deb and Diandra split the Daily Doubles in Double Jeopardy, but Diandra only bet $2,000 on the last one, so Deb took a $2,000 lead into Final Jeopardy.

It seemed fate might intervene for Diandra, as the category was Canadian Medicine: Nova Scotian William Knapp Buckley devised a widely used antitussive, meaning a drug used against this. Buckley’s Mixture is indeed a well-known cough medicine in Canada, but “antitussive” is universal; all three got it right, and Deb went through.

Semifinal #3, Tuesday, Feb. 20

Alex Gordon started this one by running a category, but then lost momentum with several incorrect responses, handing Kat Jepson the lead at the halfway point. Then Jesse Matheny found his rhythm in Double Jeopardy, converting a pair of True Daily Doubles en route to 11 correct responses.

But Alex barely denied Jesse a runaway, so there was still work to be done in Final Jeopardy, in the Presidential Elections category: He’s the most recent presidential candidate to have officially declared his opponent in that campaign the victor. This clue hinged on “officially declared”—in U.S. politics, the person who does that, on Jan. 6, is the sitting vice president—so the correct response was Al Gore in 2000. Jesse was the only one to successfully parse the clue, joining Deb Bilodeau and Mira Hayward in the tournament final.

Final, Game #1, Wednesday, Feb. 21

Deb got off to a hot start, leading after the Jeopardy round despite Jesse’s True Daily Double. Predictably, Mira—whose interview in the semis expressed how much she struggles on pub quiz audio rounds (like Round 2 here at Geeks Who Drink)—could not give any correct responses in the 1990s Music category.

Jesse’s Daily Double-hunting skills stayed sharp in the second round… but he missed a True Daily Double in the “Place to Visit” category, tumbling to third before Final Jeopardy. Deb had the lead, with Mira a few thousand behind.

The Final Jeopardy clue, in 19th Century Americans: In 1896, 15 years after a famous showdown, this man was accused of fixing a championship boxing match. Fifteen years after the famed gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Wyatt Earp was a boxing referee in San Francisco; Deb was the only player able to connect the dots on this one. Deb’s big wager gave them the Day 1 lead at $21,600, with Jesse and Mira falling to $2,800.

Final, Game #2, Thursday, Feb. 22

Deb pulled even further away with the first Daily Double, but Jesse fired back with a True Daily Double to make things interesting in the second round. Mira tried to follow suit, but fell out of contention with an incorrect response. By the end of Double Jeopardy, Jesse’s $20,400 total had erased Deb’s lead from Game 1; all he needed was a correct Final Jeopardy response to book a spot in the Tournament of Champions.

That crucial clue, in the category “On Vacation in Italy”: About 30 miles from Florence, a little hill gives this tiny Tuscan town its name, familiar to American visitors. Thirty miles southeast of Florence there’s a small town called Monticello, which lent its name to Thomas Jefferson’s estate. Unfortunately, none of our players responded correctly, and Jesse’s large covering bet meant that Deb ended up the $100,000 victor! (Between the two misses in travel-related categories in the final, I’m not sure if Jesse will truly enjoy vacations any time soon).

Jesse took home $50,000 for second, and Mira $25,000 for third.

31st Tournament of Champions, Quarterfinal #1, Friday, Feb. 23

Emily Sands, Suresh Krishnan, and Matthew Marcus were the first combatants in this slightly delayed ToC. Opening-day jitters seemed to strike two players, as Matthew struggled with both confidence and timing, and Suresh missed a pair of True Daily Doubles. Emily capitalized on those bobbles, giving 24 correct responses and successfully converting a $7,000 Daily Double bet midway through Double Jeopardy. By the end she had a convincing runaway position over Matthew, $21,800 to $7,400, while Suresh’s miss on the last clue disqualified him from Final Jeopardy altogether.

It should be noted that, unlike previous Tournaments of Champions, there will be no wildcards out of the quarterfinals; you have to win your game to advance in the tournament. This should be a recipe for some big upsets in the weeks to come–but for present purposes, the lock game meant Final Jeopardy was entirely academic.

That said, the clue was in French Authors: Trained as a priest & a physician, in 1532 he published his first novel under the pen name Alcofribas Nasier. As the reigning London Times crossword champion, Matthew had no problem coming up with François Rabelais–an anagram of “Alcofribas Nasier.” He earned a modicum of pride, but it was Emily who became the ToC’s first semifinalist.

Other notes from the week:

  • The annual Jeopardy! Honors event aired on YouTube Thursday night. The reigning ToC champion, Amy Schneider, won the Alex Trebek Person of the Year Award for her tireless efforts in speaking out against injustices in the transgender community. Steven Dorfman–a writer from the show’s 1984 inception until his death in 2004, and a lasting inspiration with his irreverent voice–was inducted into the Jeopardy! Hall of Fame.
  • Next week features ToC quarterfinals #2 through #6, and we’ll start on Monday with top-seeded Cris Pannullo, who won 21 games last season. He’ll face off against 5-day champion Ben Goldstein and 3-day champion Jared Watson.

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.