Thursday, March 10, 2005

Jeopardy! Ultimate Tournament update

For reasons both contractual and prudent, I haven't been offering any commentary on the continuing saga of the Jeopardy! Ultimate Tournament of Champions, in which yours truly is humbled to be a participant. (You can catch up on the background here and here.)

But to answer a fistful of questions that have been e-mailed to me repeatedly:
  1. Yes, I am watching the UTOC with great interest. In fact, I'm taping each game for later review. Given that at least one, and possibly two, of the returning champions currently playing in Round One of the UTOC will be my competition in Round Two — and given that I have absolutely no way of knowing at this point whom that will be — it's definitely in my best interest to know as much about everyone who's moving on in the tournament as I can glean by watching them play.

    Besides, I'm a huge fan of Jeopardy! beyond my own small piece of its history. It's an absolute treat to see all of these great players return to compete against one another. It's been especially fun to see again people I've met over the years in other tournaments, and to cheer them on. I can't applaud the Jeopardy! folks enough for putting this event together, and I'd be saying that even had I not qualified to participate.

  2. Yes, I'm impressed with the quality of the competition thus far. Most of the games have been close between at least two of the players, so with a couple of exceptions we've seen intensely tight matches that have hinged on the answering and wagering strategies in Final Jeopardy! I'm running at about 70 percent correct in guessing who will win each game. Without exception, all of the folks who have won thus far would be formidable opponents in the next round.

  3. No, I haven't played my Round Two game yet. At this writing, I don't know exactly when I will, other than that it will be one of four dates later this month. The last of the Round One games taped on Tuesday of this week, so I expect a call from the J! staff about my Round Two schedule any time now.

  4. Round Two begins airing on Tax Day — Wednesday, April 15. (Some irony there, yes?) My Round Two game will air sometime between then and the first week of May. As soon as I (a) know the air date and (b) am at liberty to report it, I'll announce it here.

  5. No, I don't yet have any definite plans for the $31,601 I won in Round One, aside from paying whopping chunks to Uncle W and Uncle Ahnold in my quarterlies over the next year. (It was nice to know the amount before my accountant worked up my taxes this year, so he could plan accordingly.) It's safe to say that, with a daughter beginning college in two and one-half years, I'm going to tuck away a sizable portion toward her education fund. (Lucky for her self-employed and far-from-wealthy Dad, she's already decided that she wants to start at the local junior college.)

  6. Yes, I'm aware of the discussion board at the official Jeopardy! site. I've been following the conversations over there during the UTOC, but have thought it best to refrain from participating as long as I'm still alive in the tournament. I know that some of the board members stop in here at SSTOL on occasion, and if you're one of them, howdy! I'll plan to join you there once the UTOC (or at least my part therein) has concluded. (Which won't be too soon, I hope!)
Last night's game was a little tough for me to watch. One of the players was Mark Lowenthal, who won the Tournament of Champions the year I participated. In fact, Mark advanced to the TOC finals by defeating me in a hotly-contested semifinal match that I led going into Final Jeopardy! He correctly solved the Civil War question, and I didn't. (Which makes a lot of sense, because Mark is a historian by training, and I — for whatever other skills I possess — am definitely not.) After his TOC victory, Mark teamed up with Chuck Forrest, the Trebek era's first truly great player (and one of the so-called "Nifty Nine," the upper echelon of players with automatic bids into Round Two of the UTOC) to write the book Secrets of the Jeopardy! Champions, which is still one of the key study references for aspiring (and returning -- trust me on this) J! players.

I was really pulling for Mark to do well in his match, both because I've played opposite him and know him to be a delightful and charming fellow (and a gracious victor), and because thus far in the UTOC there haven't been too many success stories from the early years of the Trebek era. Of the winners in the UTOC so far, only one — Dave Traini, a phenomenal J! player from Season Three whom I met in 1990 during Super Jeopardy! and was in my UTOC contestant group — played his or her original games longer ago than I did (I played during Season Four, in 1988). Alas, Mark ran into the buzzsaw of two excellent (and younger) players, and didn't fare as well as I'm sure he would have hoped. I felt badly for him — and for me, because I'd hoped we'd perhaps have a chance to renew our acquaintance in a future round.

Mark, if you're listening, your old comrade from the Class of '88 says hello, and wishes you well in life's pursuits. (Mark works for the CIA — no joke — so it probably pays to stay in his good graces.)

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