When James Holzhauer won 32 straight episodes of Jeopardy! in 2019, the general assumption was that nobody would match that total anytime soon. Since 2003, when the show lifted its five-day limit on returning champions, only Holzhauer and Ken Jennings had gone that far; as 2021 got underway, just nine players had ever managed 10 consecutive victories.
But then Matt Amodio turned up and became the 10th such player. With his 33rd victory on Friday night, he has now topped Holzhauer and holds the second-longest winning streak in Jeopardy! history. His total of $1,267,801 places him third all time in regular-season winnings, after Holzhauer and Jennings—the only other players to hit $1 million outside of tournaments.
There are lots of reasons for why long Jeopardy! winning streaks are so rare, but the biggest are that the game is hard and that so much depends on luck. There is a substantial degree of chance baked into each episode. This is by design: Merv Griffin, who created Jeopardy! with his wife, Julann, loved to play the ponies, so it’s no coincidence that the show’s three hidden wagering opportunities are called Daily Doubles, after that fixture of horse races. Who finds those squares (and when) often determines the outcome. And as any contestant who studied up on Shakespeare and Canadian geography only to be quizzed on geometry, opera, and—egads—Before & After can tell you, there’s also luck involved in which categories wind up in a certain game, as well as which opponents share the stage.
But luck gets only you so far. Just ask Holzhauer, a professional gambler, who discussed Amodio this week before his Friday results were known. “Stringing together this many wins is almost like hitting a 32-team parlay in sports betting,” Holzhauer says, “and there’s a reason you almost never see that happen.”
Amodio plays with something like a fusion of the Holzhauer and Jennings styles. Like Holzhauer, he hunts for Daily Doubles and occasionally uses runaway scores to tack on hefty sums in Final Jeopardy!; he has twice exceeded $70,000, for the 21st- and 23rd-highest one-day totals ever. But while Amodio is bold, his bets pale in comparison to the fireworks deployed by Holzhauer, who averaged just shy of $77,000 in each of his 32 victories. Amodio captured his 32nd win with a total of $1,212,401—an enormous sum, but one that is almost exactly half of what Holzhauer had earned at the same point ($2,462,216).
Instead, Amodio’s per-game winnings look a lot more like Jennings’s did during the (officially sanctioned) GOAT’s 2004 winning streak. Following his 32nd win, Jennings had amassed $1,050,460—a smidge below Amodio’s mark. Like Jennings, Amodio is willing to guess on clues: He averages about three wrong answers per game, as did Jennings, while Holzhauer rarely had more than one. Jennings and Holzhauer still dominate the all-time rankings of Coryat scores—a method of measuring total board knowledge—but Amodio achieved the second-highest Coryat score ever in his seventh Jeopardy! game.
Indeed, the trio of greats has much in common. Amodio has found a staggering 74 percent of the Daily Doubles in his games, right in between the marks of Jennings (71 percent) and Holzhauer (77 percent) during their own streaks. Those numbers reflect the group’s trivia breadth (if you give the right answer, you choose the next clue) and buzzer aptitude (to give the right answer, you have to ring in first).
But for all his dominance—and for all the would-be champs he has now sent home winless—Amodio remains a favorite of many of those who have fallen during the Amodio Rodeo (alias the Matt Gala). When Amodio hit $1 million following his 28th game, contestant Justin Stanley says the room full of freshly defeated players gave him a standing ovation.
What’s next for Amodio? First, some more Jeopardy!: On Monday, he’ll play in his 34th game, with an eye on inching closer to Jennings’s mark of 74 wins. (For those keeping score at home, if he were to keep winning, he would surpass Jennings in an episode airing in late November; Jennings himself is set to take over as guest host on November 8.)
Beyond that, Amodio is likely to become a nerdy sort of household name (or at any rate, a household name in nerdy sorts of households). Holzhauer says that he was often addressed as “Jeopardy! guy” by strangers in the months after his streak. “Matt will be very popular at his local bridge club, if my experience is any indication,” Holzhauer says.
Holzhauer, Jennings, and Brad Rutter—by many measures Jeopardy!’s winningest ever player, though his initial streak came before the lifting of the five-day champion limit—have since found a place on another game show: They, along with the British quizzer Mark Labbett, serve as the in-house trivia masterminds on The Chase, where players, including more than a few Jeopardy! alumni, face off against them.
Last month, I asked Amodio whether he would ever consider holding court on The Chase. “Thankfully, I don’t have to consider this anytime soon,” Amodio said with a laugh; Jeopardy! stipulates that champions stay off other TV shows for six months after their final game, and he will at some point have to return for a Tournament of Champions. That’s not to mention potential future showdowns with Rutter and Holzhauer—Jennings, as a Jeopardy! employee, can no longer compete—that fans are already calling for.
“But that being said,” Amodio continued, “these are three people I’ve thought about probably way too much in my lifetime. These are my heroes, and I just want to emulate them in any way I can.”