When Jeopardy! begins its 38th season next week, it will do so under a large, Mike Richards-shaped cloud. With the first week of episodes taped before his removal as new permanent host, Richards will be at the helm at the get-go, followed by another series of guest hosts as the show resumes it search for a worthy successor to Alex Trebek. But things aren’t all bad in Jeopardy! world: Ph.D. student Matt Amodio stunned fans at the end of last season with an 18-game win streak, during which he amassed $574,801 in prize money. Amodio’s current total puts him behind only two other players in highest regular-season winnings — Jeopardy! legends Ken Jennings and James Holzhauer) — and if he can keep it up, he just may earn a spot in the Jeopardy! record books. What does Matt Amodio have to aspire to — and what must he avoid? From the highest of highs to the lowest of lows, here are 17 Jeopardy! records to beat:
Who is the Greatest of All Time? In 2004, Ken Jennings solidified his place in Jeopardy! history when he went on a 74-game winning streak. Jennings’ streak came shortly after the quiz show changed its rules to allow contestants to keep returning until they lost (contestants were previously limited to five consecutive games). For months, the then-software engineer dominated the board, winning Daily Doubles and Final Jeopardies with carefully calculated wagers, but on November 30, 2004, he finally faltered when faced with a Final Jeopardy clue about H&R Block.
In the nearly 20 years since Jennings’ historic Jeopardy! run, no contestant has come close to 74 wins — not even James Holzhauer, who won 32 consecutive games in 2019 and went on to compete against Jennings in the Greatest of All Time tournament.
With 74 games under his belt, Jennings had plenty of time to rack up an impressive $2,520,700, a figure that doesn’t include his subsequent tournament appearances. Although Holzhauer played fewer than half the number of games, he came close to besting Jennings’ record with a total pot of $2,462,216. If only he had one more game…
Holzhauer made a name for himself by hunting down Daily Doubles and wagering the maximum amount, and it paid off. On April 17, 2019, he amassed $131,127 in a single game, a number never before seen on the Jeopardy! stage. According to the Jeopardy! Hall of Fame, Holzhauer holds all 10 spots in the single-game winnings record books, so it’s going to take quite the competitor to unseat him.
The third competitor in the Jeopardy!: GOAT tournament, Brad Rutter, holds the record for the highest all-time winnings with nearly $5 million. Because Rutter first competed in 2000, he was only able to appear for five regular-season episodes, but he quickly moved up in the all-time rankings thanks to his first-place finishes in the Tournament of Champions (2001), Ultimate Tournament of Champions (2005), the IBM Challenge (2011), and the Battle of the Decades (2014). Until the GOAT tournament, Rutter had never lost a Jeopardy! match against a human opponent (he famously lost to IBM’s Watson computer in 2011), a truly astounding feat.
For what it’s worth, Rutter does need to watch his back in future tournaments: Jennings is hot on his heels in the all-time winnings category, with $4,370,700.
Thanks to The Jeopardy Fan, we have a detailed account of every Jeopardy! contestant with 300 correct responses or more, and Jennings tops the list with 3,058, excluding the IBM Challenge games. Holzhauer (1,460 correct responses), Rutter (759), and late-2019 phenom Jason Zuffranieri (604), who sits at #4 in many record categories, have quite a bit of catching up to do in this category, but it will be difficult unless they compete in tournaments without Jennings (and that seems unlikely).
Finally, some diversity atop the Jeopardy! rankings: In 2010, Roger Craig established himself as a serious contender when he won seven consecutive games, during which time he surpassed Jennings’ single-game winnings record (he was later overtaken by Holzhauer). The computer scientist was invited back to various tournaments, and over the course of his 20 Jeopardy! games, he answered 428 out of 436 questions correctly, a success rate of 98.17%. Craig’s correct-answer rate is the highest of all contestants with more than 300 correct responses, but unsurprisingly, Jennings isn’t far behind: he sits in second with a success rate of 98.08%, followed by Arthur Chu with 98.05%.
It’s extremely rare that a game of Jeopardy! ends with no winner, but by at least one count it's happened seven times. In each of these games, all three players either finished with $0 or missed Final Jeopardy due to a negative total. The most recent no-winner game came in early 2016, when all three contestants wagered everything in Final Jeopardy and proceeded to answer the clue incorrectly.
In 2016, Jeopardy! modified its rules to include a tiebreaker after Final Jeopardy, but it didn’t have to implement the process until March 2018, when Laura McLean and Sarah Norris both finished with $6,799. Rather than having co-champions, the two contestants were given one final question, and the first to buzz in with the correct response (McLean) was declared the winner.
During Jennings’ stint as a guest host earlier this year, the tiebreaker was implemented yet again when Brian Chang and Jack Weller entered Final Jeopardy with $18,800 apiece. Tiebreaks of yesteryear have resulted in relatively small win totals, but this time both contestants wagered the full amount, ensuring that the winner would receive a hefty payday. Ultimately it was Chang who buzzed in first with the correct answer and pocketed the $37,600, while Weller left with the show’s $2,000 consolation prize.
Nearly a decade before instituting its new tiebreaker rule, the the show had its first — and only — three-way tie. After a Final Jeopardy clue about Bonnie Parker (of Bonnie and Clyde fame), all three contestants finished with $16,000 and were invited back the following day. The odds of such an occurrence? One in 25 million, according to game theory expert Dr. David Levine.
It stands to reason that in order to win more than $130,000 in a single game, that game would have to be pretty damn perfect. In his tenth outing, Holzhauer made history with a perfect game, going 40-for-40 on responses in the first two rounds (his opponents answered seven and eight, respectively). Just two weeks later, on April 30, the Las Vegas native did it again when he answered 43 of 43 questions, including Final Jeopardy, correctly.
File another record under James Holzhauer’s April 17, 2019 game. The professional sports gambler entered Final Jeopardy with a massive, $65,000 lead over his competitors, but in his quest to win big, he wagered just over $60,000 on a clue in the 20th Century Literary Characters category. Holzhauer’s risk paid off, earning him yet another spot atop the Jeopardy! record books.
Holzhauer’s Daily Double-chasing hit a high point on April 9, 2019, when he bet $25,000, over half his total, on a clue in the International Architecture & Design category (he answered correctly, of course). Holzhauer’s ballsy move helped him leapfrog over Roger Craig and his $18,000 Daily Double bet in the 2011 Tournament of Champions 2011.
For every six-figure Jeopardy! winner, there’s a pocket change champion like Naval officer Manny Abell, who won just a single dollar on October 17, 2017. Luckily for Abell, who started Final Jeopardy with just $1,000, a question about geography stumped his competitors, both of whom wagered their full $12,300 totals. The question proved too difficult for Abell as well, but a wager of $999 saved his rear-end and put him in good company with the show’s other $1 winners.
condolences to the new recordholder for worst day ever on Jeopardy, Patrick Pearce pic.twitter.com/JecMLYjQms— Dan Kois (@dankois) July 27, 2021
Here's a recent one. On July 26, 2021, Patrick Pearce finished two rounds of gameplay with negative $7,400, the lowest score ever recorded in the show’s history. Pearce’s dismal outing was considerably worse than the previous game-low of negative $6,800, set by Stephanie Hull in March 2015.
In 2009, actor and comedian Andy Richter set the highest one-day score on Celebrity Jeopardy! when he dominated Wolf Blitzer and Dana Delaney. Richter entered Final Jeopardy with $39,000 and opted to bet it all, a move that proved wise when he handily answered a question about Ronald Reagan. The funnyman ended up going home with $68,000, all of which was donated to the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
As Richter racked up Daily Doubles and big-time money, Wolf Blitzer fumbled his way through clues about pasta, King David, and market crashes. By the end of Double Jeopardy, the CNN anchor was sitting in the red with negative $4,600, although per Celebrity Jeopardy! rules, Trebek floated him $1,000 for Final Jeopardy. After answering correctly, Blitzer ended up with $2,000, but nothing would have been enough to wipe the stink off his Celebrity Jeopardy! appearance.
Jeopardy! returns for its 38th season Monday, September 13.
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Claire Spellberg Lustig is the Senior Editor at Primetimer and a scholar of The View. Follow her on Twitter at @c_spellberg.
TOPICS: Jeopardy!, Alex Trebek, Brad Rutter, James Holzhauer, Ken Jennings, Matt Amodio, Mike Richards