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 firstname.lastname@example.org."