Questioning the Answers

Introducing our esteemed Jeopardy! columnist... in the middle of a strike

Published September 7, 2023

Editor’s note: On what should be the joyous and momentous occasion of the dawn of the fortieth season of the Trebek version of Jeopardy!, to cover the show in 2023 is … not that. On May 2, the Writers Guild of America went on strike, and with it the crew of clue-writers who make the show tick (not least as the “judges” the host has appealed to) for nearly 9,000 episodes. Sony is moving forward with production, using previously written (and even previously used) clues, and whatever second-chance contestants are willing to cross the picket line.

As a trivia news publication, Questionist made the choice to cover the continent’s most famous quiz show before the strike began. We reached out to Andy Saunders, whose work at The Jeopardy! Fan we’ve admired for many years, to do a weekly recap. For the record, we’ve also admired his calm and professional response to the strike, and to the many emotional opinions among the fandom. We appreciate the difficulty of the position he’s in, as someone who covers the show exclusively.

The following profile comes from an interview Questionist did with Saunders in the run-up to our site launch. Before that, though, I’ll give you this one quote from him that sums up our hopes as well: “I think the strike will end eventually,” Saunders said, ”and I think Sony will be a player in how it ends. Because Sony and Jeopardy! have the most to lose if it goes on longer.”

Were it not for the cancellation of SmartAsk, The Jeopardy! Fan might not even be *a* Jeopardy! Fan.

In the early 2000s, Andy Saunders was a university student in Ontario when the CBC wrapped up the three-season run of SmartAsk, which pitted teams of secondary students against one another in a good old-fashioned buzzer contest. Saunders had followed the show religiously, and for good reason: When he was a high-school student, just two years earlier, he had ridden that same wave of quizzing-mania to an appearance with his team on the televised version of the venerable Reach for the Top (these days he’s their national tournament director). In other words, high-school quizzing was his jam.

But for Saunders in 2004, “following religiously” meant something different. It meant making a site on the burgeoning Internet, to compile the question-and-answer statistics on those SmartAsk teams and offer commentary on their performances. This was an extension of how his family had watched Jeopardy! together in his youth, binge-watching taped episodes on weekends, and even racing to guess what the categories would be before they unscrambled.

For someone like that, SmartAsk folded at just about the best possible time to keep his quiz-stats passion going.

Andy Saunders

“I went away to university, and SmartAsk got canceled, and that was right before Ken Jennings’s run started (on Jeopardy!),” Saunders explains. “I started analyzing stats for Ken Jennings’s run very closely, and by the end of that my stats were being published in newspapers. By that November, I was taking interviews.

“The day he lost, All Things Considered called.”

The day Jennings lost was momentous for another reason as well. November 30, 2004 was the launch date for the J! Archive, that database of nearly every clue and response Jeopardy! has ever done since Alex Trebek and co. revived it in 1984 (or at least 95 percent, he says). Saunders was one of the half-dozen founding archivists at the site, and continues to work on it 19 years later. In 2015, he became the site administrator of The Jeopardy! Fan – founded by Season 28 player Jeanie Kenkel – and his full-time ties to the show were complete.

“I’m grateful that I’ve been able to turn The Jeopardy! Fan into a full-time job,” he says. “Now more people have Google at their fingertips, and it happens that we have been close to or at the top of Google searches when people look for information about that night’s episode of Jeopardy!. They’ll have opinions about the Final (Jeopardy! clue), or think that one contestant was treated poorly, and they’re looking for a place to go.”

For nearly two decades now, in one way or another, Andy Saunders has been that place to go. And we’re excited to read his weekly thoughts on Questionist!

Questionist’s edition of The Jeopardy! Fan will debut Sept. 10, and run every Sunday during the Jeopardy! season.