by Andy Saunders
Welcome to the first edition of my weekly Jeopardy! recap column. Normally, I’ll take a deep look into the week that was, recapping the most recent episodes. However, we haven’t had a first-run episode since Lucas Partridge became a three-time champion on July 28th. A lot has happened since then, though.
So, what has happened over the last six weeks in Jeopardy!?
There was the usual: six weeks’ worth of encore presentations. This summer, we saw the Second Chance competition from last October, followed by last fall’s Tournament of Champions (won by Amy Schneider). The encore presentations concluded with four games from last September, where we got to see some of the better early-season moments from Season 39: Luigi de Guzman’s second and third victories, the victory of Art Fleming-era alumna Martha Bath, and the start of superchampion Cris Pannullo’s run. In one of those mind-blowing “the margin between victory and defeat on Jeopardy! can incredibly close” circumstances, had fellow challenger Pam Warren bet $5,000 instead of $4,000 on her Daily Double, she would have won instead of Cris—and Cris’s lengthy run of victories last fall would never have happened.
And now, the unusual: As has dominated entertainment news over the last four-plus months, the Writers Guild of America has been on strike since May 2. (While SAG-AFTRA joined the WGA in striking in July, that strike does not affect Jeopardy!, as most daytime and syndicated shows fall under the SAG-AFTRA National Code of Fair Practice for Network Television Broadcasting contract—the AFTRA part of SAG-AFTRA.) As Jeopardy!‘s writers are WGA members, this has caused some particularly significant hiccups in the show’s production schedule.
Had the WGA strike been resolved before Season 40 started production, we would have opened the season with a postseason featuring contestants from Season 39. We would have seen a “Second Chance” competition featuring deserving non-winning players from last season, followed by a new event: the “Champions’ Wildcard,” where players who won at least one game but failed to qualify for the Tournament of Champions, return for one final shot at the ToC, followed by the ToC itself. However, this postseason play has been placed in a holding pattern until the strike is resolved.
Due to the strike, the show’s producers have elected to continue production using a combination of unused and recycled clues written before the writers went on strike in May. To keep production running, the show invited numerous players from Seasons 37 & 38 of the show to return and play the same general format described above. (Second Chance, followed by Champions Wildcard.) These players were invited on generally short notice, which certainly would make it much more difficult for them to have studied J! Archive to find the potential “recycled questions” the show might be using during the opening weeks of Season 40. Another consideration—which weighed on a lot of minds in early August—was the willingness to cross a picket line to return to the show and compete. Many of my personal favorite contestants elected not to cross. Good for them!
Looking ahead in their TV listings, some eagle-eyed fans have noticed that the show is expecting to make it into early December with this batch of games. Then—assuming that the strike has even been resolved by then—we will see the actual postseason from last season’s games, followed shortly thereafter by a “Jeopardy! Invitational Tournament” to award a spot in next spring’s second season of Jeopardy! Masters. (The plan here is to invite a number of very strong past players to compete against the three players relegated from the first season of Masters—Sam Buttrey, Amy Schneider, and Andrew He—for a spot in the Masters event with James Holzhauer, Mattea Roach, and Matt Amodio.) Needless to say, Lucas Partridge won’t have an opportunity to win his fourth game for a very long time.
One piece of good news has come out of this situation: for the first time since the consolation prizes changed from trips & prizes to cash in 2002, the cash value of those prizes has been increased. Going forward, second place will be awarded $3,000 instead of $2,000, and third place will be awarded $2,000 instead of $1,000.
It’s also been a good summer for other parts of the Jeopardy! Universe: Season 2 of Celebrity Jeopardy!, set to air on ABC in prime time this fall, began production last month; this season’s tournament, where the winner earns $1,000,000 for charity, begins on September 27 at 8 PM (7 Central). I’m expecting the same format and gameplay as last season: 13 episodes, 27 celebrities, and a 91-clue game in three rounds (with an extra, Triple Jeopardy round before Final Jeopardy). The only difference should be the host: Ken Jennings will be hosting, as Mayim Bialik hasn’t hosted since the beginning of the WGA strike. As of this writing, this season’s competing celebrities have not been announced; the clues for this season of Celebrity Jeopardy! were all written and finalized before the WGA strike began.
If you’re an international fan, especially in the United Kingdom or Australia, localized versions of the show are coming to your neck of the woods! The first U.K. version since the mid-’90s will air this fall on ITV, with hour-long episodes (in a single-single-double-Final format) set to begin airing in mid-to-late October. There will also be an Australian version of the show set to air in 2024; the Australian version was produced on the same set as the UK version, with expatriate Australians living in the U.K. as contestants. Stephen Fry will host both versions.
As you can see, it’s been an interesting summer. The new season begins Monday, and I’ll be here to cover it!