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Three Way Tie - March 21

On March 16, Jeopardy! ended in a three-way positive score tie for the first time in the 24 year history of the show. That was notable in itself, but you can forgive Alex for doing little more than a small exclamation of surprise at the end of the episode. After all, the show is timed down to the second, in order to fit in commercials, the credits, even the Audio Daily Double. What's even more interesting is that on twelve occasions, Ken Jennings outscored all three contestants on the March 16 episode on his own. It's an interesting even that deserved a bit of media attention, but that's not why we're here.  

In an article that was given space on the front page of the GSNN site, mathematicians "contacted by the show" calculated the odds of such an event happening to be "25 million to one." Pardon me while I fetch my "challenge" beanbag to throw it. There we are. I call bullpucky. No mathematician can calculate the odds of this sort of thing happening, mainly because there are too many human factors entering the equation. There have already been two other times that a 3-way tie would have been a completely reasonable outcome to the show, but one of the players bet irrationally (that is to say, in a way contrary to the way that gives them the best chance of winning the game), spoiling the tie. Three times in a hair under 6,000 shows makes 25 million to one seem patently ridiculous on its, and it is. I'm tired of seeing this sort of "made up math" that we see in advertisements, news reports and other places. It continues because people really aren't smarter than a fifth grader when it comes to basic math and common sense, so they don't know enough to call "Foul!" on this sort of fuzzy math.

Now, to the event at hand. After the small whirlwind of publicity (small because last I checked, none of the players were invited on Good Morning America or appeared on the front cover of People) we can dissect what happened. I content that the reigning champion goofed in terms of strategy. With a lead of 13400-8000-8000, defending champion Scott Weiss needed only to bet $2,601 in order to dispatch his two challengers, increase his winnings to $61,002, and of course, miss out on a bit of history. I would be entirely unsurprised to find out that Scott looked at the numbers, realized that his two opponents would bet the lot, and decided to make a bit of history. Good on him for doing that; I'm sure Martin and Jamey are thankful for Scott's largesse. (Jamey especially, since he went on to collect $62,265 over four episodes)

There are two entirely valid ways to look at such a scenario. First, as the defending champion, you've already played at least one game. You have a built-in advantage having played with the signaling button, looking at the board, the "go" lights, listening to the cadence of Canada's Own, and so on. Game day experience is huge in the Jeopardy! Arena and giving away such an advantage is a bit foolish. On the other hand, Scott led both contenders by over $5,000. Maybe he thought "I can beat these guys again tomorrow and continue my defense. Or they might turn around and do the same thing for me if it comes up."

Since Scott was smart enough to get on Jeopardy! and win two days, I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Travis Eberle was up far too early to come up with anything pithier than "send him your comments in the form of a question to traviseberle@gmail.com."

 

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