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A Champion of Tournaments - May 24

As a youngster, the World Series did not hold my attention. The Super Bowl was just another thing on TV. The NBA Finals and Stanley Cup weren't even on my radar. For me, my yearly 'appointment event' was the Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions. It was for many of the same reasons that sports fans gather during the post-season. After watching 35 weeks of shows, I had seen the best of the year. It was time for my post-season. I would put together a bracket and follow the action. I had picked out my favorite contestants, and rooted them on to victory. Sometimes I would be reacquainted with contestants I had watched months ago, and then remembered them. I would make sure that I would be home at least for the two-day final, at least before the days of the internet. Geeky? Hell yes, but I didn't care. This was my nerdvana, and I loved it. Catching the repeat some eight weeks later just wouldn't do.

Some years had particularly interesting fields (1990 and 1994 spring to mind) If two of the better competitors managed to get to the finals, so much the better. The 2003 championship where Brian Weikle, Mark Dawson and Eric Floyd battled for the $250,000 grand prize was some of the greatest Jeopardy! I've ever seen. The Tournament final with Dan Melia making mincemeat of Bob Harris and Kim Worth was good television, I got to see good game play and good comedy from the losers. Having the tournaments held in another city was a stroke of genius. It was our knowledge Super Bowl, and the new location added to the excitement. The big money also helped. On regular shows, players would be lucky to win $15,000; $20,000 or more was rare company indeed; now the best players would have a shot at $100,000 for winning four games. You just didn't see that anywhere else.

This year's championship was a bit of a disappointment. When Jeopardy! changed the rules to allow unlimited championships, I predicted that the annual tournament would suffer for it. I was right: while there were several champions of six, seven, and yes 19 games, the field was filled out with two college winners and several three and four-game winners, those who would not have a sniff at the $250,000 in past years were given a backdoor entry. Out of three finalists, I barely remembered watching Vik's games, and Michael (the eventual winner) did not jog my memory at all. Bill McDonald was the only one I could remember, and thus my only rooting interest. The increasing of the loser's prizes was a bit of an oddity too: why have 'minimum' prizes for the finalists at all if there's no chance for the players to exceed that amount? To top the $100,000 second place prize, a player would have to roll up two near perfect games, only to lose to the eventual winner. What's wrong with $25,000 and $50,000 as runner-up prizes? I'd fly out to California for that.

I think the time might be for having a tournament every other year. Stretching out the qualifying period to two years allows for two college entrants (what happened to allowing the winning teenager into the tournament?) and would increase the talent pool. Have some sort of special week during May (the show's Silver Anniversary is coming up, I'm sure they'll do something for that) and the Tournament of Champions will again become the premier event it once was, rather than another two weeks of something other than vanilla Jeopardy!. 

Travis Eberle can be reached at if you want to drop a line and tell him how absolutely geeky he is. Go on, you know you want to. You don't even have to reply in the form of a question.


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