Palace Intrigue

Controversial candidate, sinister Senate leader highlight a busy week

Published October 1, 2023

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

Before I get into my usual writeup, there were concerns from some quarters regarding the announcement of the first set of players in the Champions Wildcard tournament, including Burt Thakur, who has begun campaigning for the Republican primary in Texas’s Third Congressional District. Questions quickly arose regarding Thakur’s eligibility in light of the FCC’s Political Programming Rules, and whether Thakur has reached the status of “legally qualified candidate.” 

Ultimately, the adjudicator of Thakur’s eligibility is the show, which provided a brief statement late Thursday evening: “Burt Thakur’s participation is within the parameters of the official rules of the show.” One possible explanation is that Texas’s window to officially file for candidacy is between Nov. 11 and Dec. 11, so the local affiliate, KTVT Dallas, would not be required to provide equal opportunity to opponents just yet. Local journalists were contacted for their take on the situation, and I will update this column if they reply.

Now, back to normal: This week was the third of three Second Chance competitions, all featuring non-champion players from Season 37, with the week’s winner advancing to a Champion’s Wildcard event later this fall. Nine players played in three semifinal matches Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, with the winners advancing to a “two-game total-point affair” final on Thursday and Friday.

Additionally, this Wednesday saw the season premiere of Season 2 of primetime Celebrity Jeopardy! on ABC.

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

Semifinal #1 — Monday, Sept. 25

Week 3 of Second Chance started with Jilana Cotter having a much better day on the Daily Doubles; she got hers correct, while Elaine Filadelfo and Colin Beazley did not have similar success. This provided enough cushion for Jilana to take a runaway victory in Monday’s semifinal. Final Jeopardy was in SCIENTISTS: A 1953 article by this pair says, “The specific pairing we have postulated… suggests a… copying mechanism for the genetic material. All three players got (James) Watson & (Francis) Crick, with nobody going for the “Rosalind Franklin & her notes” joke, despite the runaway situation.

Semifinal #2 — Tuesday, Sept. 26

The Daily Doubles played an interesting role in this game. They stayed unseen until very late in Double Jeopardy, a situation probably helped by Michalle Gould’s choosing not to hunt for them (she nearly exclusively selected top-row clues when she had control of the board). The result? David Kaye found both Daily Doubles back-to-back late, starting from a distant third place. He split them with a pair of conservative bets, leaving Ollie Savage in the lead going into the Final Jeopardy in PUBLICATIONS: A collection of achievements bearing this name was established in the early 1950s to help resolve pub disputes. Unfortunately for Ollie, he could not come up with The Guinness Book of World Records as he fell to third place; Michalle advanced to the final.

Semifinal #3 — Wednesday, Sept. 27

Seven incorrect responses from Barb Fecteau in this game didn’t prevent her from holding a lead over Mark Lucas and Allison Pistorius going into Final Jeopardy; 15 Triple Stumpers and an incorrect Daily Double from Mark midway through Double Jeopardy kept the scores down. Barb charmed the audience with her in-game comments, especially when describing her responses in the TRICKY QUESTIONS category: “Of Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, or Colin Clive, the one who played the title role in the 1931 film Frankenstein,” read one clue. “None of them, because Frankenstein is the doctor, not the monster,” Barb replied. (Alas, the second part is true, but not the first – Karloff memorably played the monster, but Clive was the doctor.)

Final Jeopardy was from MYTHOLOGY: Chrysomallus was the name of the creature that was the source of this sought-after item, vellus aureum in Latin. All three players correctly translated to the Golden Fleece; Barb advanced to the final.

Final, Game #1 — Thursday, Sept. 28

Jilana’s strong play continued in the two-game final; she was well ahead this week in buzzer attempts, averaging 44.7 throughout her three games. Barb knew she had to be aggressive on the Daily Doubles—she twice bet the maximum allowed. Unfortunately, she was not correct either time. Meanwhile, Michalle’s aversion to Daily Double hunting continued, as she kept selecting mostly first- and second-row clues—on average, she selected row 1.83 before the Daily Doubles in this game, compared to Barb’s 3.50 and Jilana’s 3.86. As it was, Jilana had a good-sized lead going into this Final Jeopardy.

Thursday’s Final Jeopardy took us to SYMPHONIES: Debuting at Carnegie Hall in 1893, it was written by a European living in New York & partly inspired by “The Song of Hiawatha.” All three players came up with Antonín Dvořák’s “New World” symphony, and some intelligently aggressive Final Jeopardy betting saw Jilana finish with $29,200, Michalle $21,400, and Barb $6,400.

Final, Game #2 — Friday, Sept. 29

Despite needing to find a Daily Double to prevent Jilana from putting the final out of reach, Michalle continued her top-down clue selection. Meanwhile, Barb found the first Daily Double of Double Jeopardy, doing what she had to by going all-in for $7,200—she even said, “Let’s prove that I have never learned my lesson about anything.” Sure enough, another incorrect response put her out of contention. Jilana converted the last Daily Double, to help cement a runaway tournament going into Final Jeopardy (Barb’s maximum possible two-day score was $21,600, Michelle’s $43,400, while Jilana already had $45,600).

Final Jeopardy was in U.S. SENATE HISTORY: In 1805, after 4 years presiding over the Senate, he left the chamber, calling it “a sanctuary”; a citadel of law, of order. Unfortunately, none of the players remembered that the Vice President presided over the Senate, even in the early 19th century; thus, none made the jump in logic to come up with Aaron Burr. Jilana made a math error in her wager, exposing herself to a possible loss by $1, but thankfully she did not throw away her shot after making a math error in her Final Jeopardy wager; she accidentally bet $2,201, which would have lost her the tournament by $1 had Michalle been correct and bet everything. Jilana advances to Champions Wildcard in a few weeks as the week’s clear strongest player.

As fate would have it, this Senate history lesson wound up airing the day Dianne Feinstein died at age 90, after 31 years as a senator from California.

Celebrity Jeopardy! Quarterfinal #1 — Wednesday, Sept. 27

Wednesday evening also saw the Season 2 premiere of primetime Celebrity Jeopardy. As with last season, these games were 91 clues in length, adding a Triple Jeopardy round with clues from $300 to $1,500, and three Daily Doubles. The major change to the Celebrity presentation: to give the home viewer a better idea of both the game situation and the category in play, the standard shot of the clue board has both the category highlighted, as well as a shot of all three players with their scores.

In this game, Utkarsh Ambudkar (Jay on Ghosts), Emily Hampshire (Stevie on Schitt’s Creek), and Mark Duplass (Chip on The Morning Show) tested their Jeopardy! Skills while raising money for charitable causes.

Mark claimed to have deleted a five-minute video on buzzer timing sent to him by last year’s winner Ike Barinholtz, but still jumped out to an early advantage, thanks to buzzing in on 83% of his attempts. I was also hoping for my fellow Canadian Emily to do better, but she seemed to show that anyone—even star performers—can get nervous when out of their element. Mark had 11 correct responses in the first round and 12 more in the second, and I thought he would walk to victory.

But in Triple Jeopardy everything turned around for Utkarsh. He surprised everyone by picking up four correct responses in IT “IS” WHAT IT “IS”, including a $7,000 Daily Double. Mark battled valiantly, but a $5,000 miss on a late Daily Double opened the door for Utkarsh—who apologized to his parents on-air after missing a clue about chicken tikka masala (just “chicken tikka” wasn’t enough)—to claim a surprise lead going into Final Jeopardy. A struggling Emily finished Triple Jeopardy with -$1,100, and was given the Celeb-customary $500 to bet in Final Jeopardy.

Final Jeopardy was in ASTRONOMY: Discovered in the ‘60s and ‘70s, Cygnus-X was the first of these light-trapping gravitational bodies to be identified. Both Mark and Utkarsh were correct with “black holes,” and Utkarsh hammed it up by pretending he had lost before his answer was revealed. (Several people were fooled by that one). Utkarsh will return later this season as a semifinalist.

A few social-media fans noticed that these clues seemed more difficult compared to past years; even diehards mentioned their personally tracked Coryat scores were lower than usual. It’ll be something I keep an eye on going forward.

Other notes from the week

  • Amy Schneider’s memoir, In The Form of a Question: The Joys and Rewards of a Curious Life releases October 3.
  • There were significantly more repeated clues this week: Tuesday’s game repeated old clues in eight of the 12 categories, and Wednesday’s game in seven of them—including the hilarious 2000 Triple Stumper “Total cubic feet of earth in a hole 1 yard wide, 1 yard long & 1 yard deep” clue in TRICKY QUESTIONS. Spoiler: Barb got it right this time. The correct question is “What is none?”
  • Thursday saw eight repeated categories, and Friday’s four. As we advance and the completely “fresh” boards left over from last season are exhausted, I expect the next six weeks to look more like Tuesday through Friday’s games, and less like all-new Monday’s. But the writers are back to work tomorrow! 

Next week begins Champions Wildcard, and the first five quarterfinals in the “Spades” bracket; Wednesday’s Celebrity Jeopardy sees Timothy Simons (Jonah on Veep), Lisa Ann Walter (Melissa on Abbott Elementary), and Brian Baumgartner (Kevin on The Office).

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.

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