How Matt Amodio won 38 games of Jeopardy! — and why the last question tripped him up
The Yale student boasts the show’s 2nd longest winning streak and 3rd highest winnings
Matt Amodio knows his history.
So when the longtime Jeopardy! champion was faced with a question about the Second World War on Monday, his fans thought for sure he would clinch his 39th consecutive victory.
The clue was: "Nazi Germany annexed this nation and divided into regions of the Alps and the Danube. The allies later divided into four sectors."
"What is Poland?" Amodio chimed in.
Wrong. The correct answer was Austria.
Thus ended the Yale computer science student's historic winning streak on the trivia game show, paving the way for the new champion, Jonathan Fisher of Coral Gables, Fla.
"There's so much going on in the game at once. What I often do is just quickly skim the question and then immediately start thinking to maximize the amount of time I have to think about the actual response," Amodio told As It Happens host Carol Off.
"When you do that first skim, if you misread things or gloss over things, it can be hard to recover in such a short time."
Amodio missed a key word from the question: "Alps."
"That would have helped if I read that correctly," he said. "I'm aware that the Alps are not in Poland."
A historic Jeopardy! run
But Amodio, originally from Medina, Ohio, has plenty to be proud of.
He made Jeopardy! history, securing the second-most consecutive wins after Ken Jennings, and earning $1,518,601 US, the third highest non-tournament winnings behind James Holzhauer's $2,462,216 and Jennings' $2,520,700.
"Well beyond my wildest dreams," Amodio said. "I went in hoping to win one game so I can call myself a Jeopardy! champion. And when it just kept rolling, it just was unbelievable day after day. Very proud of it."
The key to his success was twofold. First, he knows his stuff.
"I have always loved trivia and I've always loved Jeopardy! specifically. My family watched it together since I was a young kid. Eventually, I started to know some answers myself. And still, to this day, I go to bar trivia, we play Trivial Pursuit, I like online quizzes. I'm just a trivia nerd," he said.
"I read all the time. I want to read about everything. I like history, but I like history of everything — I like the history of culture, the history of science, the history of literature. And so I think I just want to absorb every fact about the world I can."
But you won't catch him perusing a dusty tome. Most of his reading, he says, comes in the form of getting lost down Wikipedia rabbit holes.
"It's such a great public free resource, and I would start on one article, and then they link you to 10, 15, 20 other things that you're interested in before you get to the end," he said.
"I actually envy the brilliant minds of yesteryear who are able to learn all of this stuff without the internet. I don't know how you really gain that information. But for me, it's very easy."
The second key to his success was strategy.
"One of the things I said I'm going to try, and wait and see if it works, is to go from one category to another. And I found I was pretty successful at context switching really quickly," he said. "I think that that helped keep my challengers off their feet because that might have been harder for them."
Not all of his strategies were popular among fans. His propensity for answering every question with "What" — even when the answer was a "who" — earned him some backlash.
"So if asked about the current president, I would say 'What's Biden?' And it sounds awkward, but it's allowed," he said.
"It's just a lot of thinking that has to go on. And it's pretty automatic thinking, but it's still thinking when you're playing the game. And Jeopardy! is hard enough, as is. I didn't want to think about anything I didn't have to.
"Some fans were not pleased."
But whatever the haters say, Amodio knows he has one unconditional fan — his dad.
"He's so proud and feels totally vindicated, as he should. I shout out answers at home, and so I thought I knew some things, but I [didn't] think I was as smart as the people on the show or as good at the game. And so I was reluctant to go take the test and try out. He pushed me to, and I did it mostly out of obligation to him," he said.
"And OK, you know what? You're right, Dad. Thank you."
Amodio will return Jeopardy! for the next Tournament of Champions some time next year.
Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Ashley Fraser.