Matt Amodio of New Haven added another win and another $27,201 Friday on the final episode of the current season of “Jeopardy!” — meaning he’ll start next season as the show’s returning champion, not to mention one of its all-time biggest money-winners.
It was another big week for the Yale Ph.D. candidate who’s been racking up wins on “Jeopardy!” since July 21. His win on Thursday, which raised his total earnings to $547,600, made Amodio the third highest earning player in the TV quiz show’s history.
The show’s 37th season ended with Friday’s episode. “Jeopardy!” airs locally at 7 p.m. on WTNH. The next season begins just a month from now, on Sept. 13.
In an email exchange with the Courant on Friday morning, Amodio said he is looking forward to returning to New Haven after spending most of the coronavirus shutdown period in the Midwest, where he’s from.
“Yep, I’m going to be back in New Haven for the next semester,” the champion writes. “My schedule is almost entirely detached from the regular semester schedule, but I am looking forward to getting back together with my fellow grad students who I’ve just been connecting with remotely this whole time.”
How does he intend to spend the month between last season and this season? (Whether or not he’s appearing on the show, he watches it religiously.) “Stressed! I have been nervously watching all of my mistakes on national television, adding to the concern they gave me in the moment. I feel like I have accumulated a lot of reasons to feel fragile! But really, I’ve mostly been trying to decompress, it has been a whirlwind! I want to soak up the experience, but not get too overwhelmed by it all.”
Was there a recent question that he got right but didn’t expect to? “Hmm... I think this past week (maybe Monday?) I got four out of five questions right in a ‘Celebrity Mothers’ category. That kind of pop culture/celebrity stuff (it’s not even about the movies/TV shows themselves!) is very scary to me, and I was so proud of myself for remembering so much of the stuff I read on Wikipedia. I took a step back and said ‘Wow’ to myself after that one!”
Amodio cracked the top 10 of top earners on July 29, when his $268,800 winnings put him at No. 9. On Aug. 6 he hit No. 5 not just for money won (at that point $430,200) but on the list of consecutive games won (at that point 13). A week later he is still going strong.
In earlier interviews with the Hartford Courant in July, Amodio said he honed his trivia skills playing bar trivia games, including locally at the Playwright in Hamden. Now famous for his confident wagering, he said, “I’m a risk-averse person in general, and on the show you have to risk a fair bit of money. It’s nerve-wracking.”
“That’s the statistician in me,” he told the paper. “If I thought about the consequences, it might end up differently. It’s the best way to strategize my winning. But I hate it. I feel like Wile E. Coyote in the Roadrunner cartoons, just boldly walking off the end of the cliff, into the air.”
Amodio said his “Jeopardy!” winnings would help him in his career as a mathematician, as “my career decisions have also had to be based on money. Now I have the luxury of making those decisions based on what I want to do. Post-doc positions tend to be underpaid, but the pay doesn’t matter as much now. I can stay in academia.”
A native of Ohio who has lived in Connecticut for the past five years, Amodio says he would love to stay in New Haven if possible but that an academic job might take him elsewhere.
Amodio’s ongoing success has drawn attention to the actual playing of the game at a time when a lot of the “Jeopardy!” buzz has been about the hosts.
This season saw multiple guest hosts, vying for the job of permanent host. This week it was announced that Mike Richards, already part of the “Jeopardy!” team as a producer, would be its new permanent host, and that actress/neuroscientist Mayim Bialik would host the show’s prime time special challenges.
Amodio’s winning streak spanned the guest hosting gigs of Robin Roberts, LeVar Burton, David Faber and Joe Buck.
Amodio has a couple of million dollars yet to earn if he wants to unseat Ken Jennings, who made $2,520,700 on the show, and James Holzhauer, who made $2,462,216. In a “Jeopardy!” press release, Amodio said “The show has had so many brilliant people, I’m honored to be thought of as even close to them.”
Amodio’s opponents on Friday were Nicolle Neulist of Chicago and Eric Shi from Houston, Texas.
Christopher Arnott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.