Applying to be on Jeopardy! definitely wasn’t a snap decision for me. I don’t know how long I’ve been watching the show but I certainly remember Ken Jennings’ run when I was 13. I watched Jeopardy! pretty regularly from then until I went to college, and a few years ago I got back into watching.
I took the Anytime Test a couple of times and I finally got an in person audition in March 2020. But it was only a couple of days before everything shut down because of the pandemic. I then didn’t get another audition until August 2021. After that, it was very short notice before I was on the show.
I remember saying to my partner, “I wonder if Matt Amodio is still going to be there?” My attitude was that he was such a strong player that it would just be great to play against him. I had decided that the stakes were going to be really low, because the odds of going beyond one game against Matt were so low! It was daunting but it helped me go into it a little more calmly.
The moment you step into the Jeopardy! studio and onto the stage is really exciting. It’s much smaller than it seems on TV, but seeing the podiums and the screens was really neat, and Matt was really, really nice. He was so friendly and accommodating to all the contestants who were there and wanted to bombard him with questions because he was the current Jeopardy! celebrity. He was really gracious and friendly; a great guy.
When I watched the show on October 11, I realized that I didn’t really remember anything about the game until the last part. It’s a little bit of an out of body experience. I can remember the last five minutes of the show really clearly, but I didn’t remember that I had gotten all three Daily Doubles, much less got two correct and one wrong. I have no memory of that at all.
It might be 22 minutes of airtime, but it felt like it was over in 10 minutes. It’s so fast paced. But Mayim Bialik was great. I remember watching her guest hosting in June and when I came on stage for my first episode, I thought she was really getting the timing of the clues down and she was very, very personable. She was genuinely interested in the contestants and our weird stories. I really liked having her there. There had been all this host turmoil, and Mayim was more of a comforting presence than I had expected.
At the end of the game, we put our wagers in and I had to bet everything because I was only $200 ahead of Jessica Stephens. Then, for whatever reason, there was a 20 minute production break, so the three of us were standing for what felt like a long time before we got the Final Jeopardy! clue reveal. That was really, really tense. But as soon as Jessica revealed her answer—Austria—I knew that I was right and that I had won. It was a totally surreal moment.
A part of me is like, “It’s true, I did beat Matt Amodio!” But another part is more rational; someone was going to do it at some point. I don’t think I’m anywhere near the caliber of player Matt is, but I did a pretty good job.
I think the combination of Jessica and I playing really strongly was an alchemy that had to come together in order to take someone like Matt down. But also, so much of the game is random chance. The lineup of players, where you stand at each podium—except for the champion—and all of the clues and categories are completely random. There is a big element of chance, and I don’t think that’s always super clear to people watching.
So I try to be balanced, but it is really cool that I beat Matt Amodio. It makes me feel justified for sitting on the couch watching TV and yelling, “I could be on Jeopardy! I knew that one!” while my partner is in the other room rolling her eyes.
Matt absolutely did not throw the game. Some people said that James Holzhauer threw his final game too, and he said why would he give up a job that’s paying him hundreds of thousands of dollars to get toys thrown at him by his daughter. Matt is such a great player and such a stand up guy. I think he may have been tired, there were times when had taped three days in a row, which is 15 games. That’s an astonishing amount of work, and the COVID protocols at Jeopardy! are strict and regimented. So it’s a real physical and mental effort. I bet if you ask James Holzhauer and Ken Jennings they would say that at some point you do get really tired.
There’s also the factor of luck. This was the first game where Matt had two strong competitors ringing in really fast. I think he came in with a couple of wrong answers, which he didn’t typically do, so I believe it’s just a combination of all those factors.
And, the buzzer is tricky. The contestants get buzzer practice at the beginning of the day so we get a feel for it, but if you go back and watch all of Matt’s shows, he’s not always ringing in on time, and you can also see all the other contestants hitting their buzzers constantly. It’s all a matter of catching the clue right as it ends. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the buzzers, it’s just designed to be a very difficult game to master!
After I won, my conversation with Matt was very brief because I was being taken to get ready for my next game and he was doing interviews. But I went up and I shook his hand and said it had been so great to play him. He said he was rooting for me and to go on a winning streak. He was very gracious and I’m hoping that at some point we will get to interact again. He didn’t give me any advice, but I did make the joke that if he wanted to give me his winnings and keep playing, he could!
I don’t really feel any pressure now because I was pretty even-keeled going in and then I completed this seemingly insurmountable task. I went in not expecting to win at all, especially against Matt, and then I did. So anything else that happens beyond that it is icing on the cake. I already got to do the really cool thing!
I do think Matt and I are opposites in that pop culture is by far my strongest category. Seeing that category gives me a really great feeling. History I could know or not, and same with geography. Science and math are definitely at the bottom of my knowledge base.
I have no idea what I’ll do with the money. My partner and I have talked about maybe trying to mount a stage production. I’m an actor and she’s a writer and director. Maybe go on a nice vacation somewhere away from the pandemic. Winning hasn’t really sunk in yet.
Jonathan Fisher is an actor living in California. On October 11 he beat Matt Amodio on Jeopardy! And ended his 38 game winning streak. You can follow Fisher on Twitter @jfishthedish or Instagram @jonathanfisherjr.
All views expressed in this article are the author’s own.
As told to Jenny Haward.