A Jeopardy! Second Chance Tournament? EP Michael Davies Explains
Everyone at Jeopardy! reads books. In fact, the whole show, if you think about it, is built on books. Our production day starts in the library, where our writers and researchers work, about 100 yards or so from the stage. At 8:30 a.m. every tape day, we meet there with Ken or Mayim to go over every clue, and all the backup clues, just one last time. The room is filled with rows and rows of shelves and shelves of books. Pre-internet, this was pretty much the only way that clues were ever originated or researched. Even today, so many clues start and finish with what one of our writers read and what one of our researchers checked in an actual, physical book. I particularly love watching Michele and Billy, our head writers, scurrying across the library mid-meeting, on a mission to quickly thumb through some enormous tome to check an acceptable response or alternative pronunciation.
Our contestants, for the most part, and certainly the Greats, are also built on a love of books. Who can forget Amy Schneider’s touching story about her obsessive love of reading, and how her parents had one tactic to limit that obsession?:
“The rule was that I was only allowed to check out as many books from the library as I could carry by myself.”
No wonder she is now planning to write a book of her own. I, for one, can’t wait to read it.
However, at Jeopardy!, books aren’t just limited to the library and to the lifelong reading habits of our contestants. The consoles in the control room and the producers’ table on stage have reference works strewn all over them, and as I walk around between shows, I am actually more likely to see someone reading a book than checking their phone. Furthermore, I know the show inspires our viewers to read more. It certainly has inspired me to read so much more since I started last summer.
A few weeks ago, between shows, I approached the workstation of Michael Harris, our senior researcher. He has a very specific and important job during gameplay: Enabling the notorious signaling devices.
He is absolutely brilliant at his high-pressure job. Quite justifiably, he was taking a mental break between shows and, in true Jeopardy! fashion, he was reading a book. But as I approached, he noticed me, and he closed the book and pushed it away, as if he were getting caught doing something he wasn’t supposed to. Nothing could be further from the truth. I was mortified. I LOVED that he was reading a book and immediately enthusiastically asked him what he was reading (“Bullet Train” by Kotaro Isaka) and I told him about what I was reading (“Hero of Two Worlds” by Mike Duncan). And as I walked away from that conversation, I immediately had an idea.
We need to start a Jeopardy! Book Club.
That’s all I have for now. We don’t have all the details figured out yet, but we’re the perfect program to do it. I think we can do something magnificent, and we hope to work in concert with libraries and independent booksellers all across America. One thing I’ve learned pretty quickly is that if I write something on Jeopardy.com, it kind of has to happen.
Thank you to Michael Harris for the inspiration. Scroll down to the end of this note to see the last five books that Michael has read; maybe you’ll want to check them out yourself. And, as always, I welcome your feedback on this new initiative.
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Speaking of new projects…The Jeopardy! National College Championship is up and running on ABC in primetime. This was a wonderful experience for everyone involved and a huge learning experience for me personally so early in my tenure at Jeopardy! We are committed to establishing this as an annual event and your feedback has been really valuable and positive. I did want to address a couple of specific things that have come up:
We are absolutely going to invite the eventual winner of the J!NCC to compete in the ToC.
As to the criticism of the tournament structure, and specifically the fact that one of our four semifinalists will not advance to the final, I get it. It's an imperfect solution that resulted from necessary changes to the original tournament format and the fixed number of hours we were committed to deliver. However, I am happy to announce that we will invite the fourth place finisher back for our postseason Second Chance Tournament that will precede, and feed, at least one player into the Tournament of Champions. ….
I may have just broken the Jeopardy!-verse.
I started thinking about a Second Chance Tournament almost the day I started on Jeopardy!, when Jessica Stephens beat Matt Amodio, but lost to Jonathan Fisher by just $401. I thought, “Wow, wouldn’t it be a cool idea to have a tournament where we bring excellent contestants like Jessica back?” Like most good ideas, it was quickly apparent that many, many other people – both inside and outside the show – had had exactly the same thought, long before me. But now we’re actually going to do it, and slot it in right before the ToC. More details to follow, including the criteria we will be using to select the rest of the participants. To be clear, though, the eligibility time frame will be the same as for this year’s ToC: We are looking at contestants who appeared on Jeopardy! since the last Tournament of Champions who we believe deserve a second shot. I know there will be many contestants from previous years who will be howling at this point, and I do not rule out a future opportunity to compete again for some of you. But for now this is part of the postseason for this season. We are all so excited at the prospect, and we look forward to seeing some wonderful contestants again on our stage.
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I want to conclude this piece by reflecting briefly on Amy’s staggering streak, which concluded after the last time I communicated with you all.
I could really write my own book about her brilliance and courage, what her run means and represents, and how important it is, but others have done that better than I ever could. I could give you some more behind-the-scenes details of what it was like to watch her up close, but she’ll write that better from her point of view, and has already. And to be honest, most of the time in the control room and on stage, we were just stunned into submission at her extraordinary talent for the game.
Instead, I would like to focus on the two things I find most remarkable about Amy.
The first is what I observed from watching her on the show and it is small but I think significant. At my station in the control room, I have an isolated close up of all of the contestants and I became obsessed with the look that occurs on Amy’s face on the very rare occasions that she didn’t know an answer. It’s like she was filing it away, always interested and listening intently to learn something new. Knowing her, this was perhaps stimulating some further reading or exploration. I found this so inspiring and quite unlike any other contestant I have seen play the game…until I went back and watched tape of Matt Amodio doing his own version of the same thing. I guess this is evidence of a lifelong love of, and commitment to, learning.
The second is a larger observation that is inescapable when you listen to Amy or read her interviews or social posts.
Amy, simply put, has grace.
She was gracious in victory, she was gracious in defeat and she is gracious and thoughtful and kind with everything that she says and writes. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t have strong (and valuable) opinions. She most certainly does. But because of the manner in which she expresses herself, she commands and inspires respect and grace in return.
It is my sincere hope that we all take a page from Amy's book and learn to be kinder and more gracious to one another, particularly in the digital and social space. We encourage lively commentary within the Jeopardy! community and do sincerely want to hear your opinions and get your feedback. We draw the line, however, at discriminatory comments aimed at our contestants and our hosts, or at each other, and ask that we all aim higher: Jeopardy! is about excellence, and shouldn't the discourse around the show reflect that same spirit?
I don’t think it’s possible to work on Jeopardy! or love Jeopardy! without also loving books, so let’s turn the page and move forward together as a supportive and graceful community.
Thank you for watching and thank you for reading,
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Here’s Michael Harris!
And here are the last five books he has read and what he loved about them:
“The Fifth Season” by N.K. Jemisin – Science Fiction Fantasy set in a seismic sensitive world. Jemisin, an African American author, weaves aspects of race relations in the fabric of this world and the roles race plays in the character functions in society.
“Bullet Train” by Kotaro Isaka – Set on the Shinkansen in Japan, five assassins find themselves on a train and soon discover some of their reasons for being on the train are at cross purposes with each other. A suspense filled drama with really well drawn characters.
“The Trouble With Peace” by Joe Abercrombie – This is the second book in the fantasy trilogy “The Age of Madness.” In this installment, all of the intrigue of book 1 boils over and the characters truly find that the trouble with peace is that it may hold anything but peace. Abercrombie continues to deliver in this series with rich characters, great action and humor.
“A Place to Bury Strangers” by Justin Kerr – A look at life in the high desert, specifically Joshua Tree. Justin Kerr interweaves the real accounts of missing persons and dead bodies found in the Joshua Tree park and desert with a real account of his own interactions with some of the local denizens of the area. A fun read for anyone, but especially those familiar with the high desert.
“A Little Hatred” by Joe Abercrombie – Abercrombie’s first book in his fantasy trilogy “The Age of Madness.” In this book we are reintroduced to some characters from Abercrombie’s well crafted universe and we are pulled into a story that wreaks of injustice, brewing tensions and hints of revolution as the characters deal with the changes of an approaching modern age.