The Jeopardy! Greatest of All Time Tournament was everything the show’s fans hoped it would be as the first day of competition kicked off on ABC on Tuesday. James Holzhauer, Ken Jennings, and Brad Rutter headed into the showdown with a chance to win $1 million and call themselves the greatest player in the show’s history, and all three proved worthy of the title in the hour-long first night of the event.
Host Alex Trebek laid out some rules to start the show: no money, just points. Each night would consist of two games, with the total scores from each added to award the highest total the win for the night. The first player to hit three wins would claim the prize and title, and though the three players would occupy the same spot on the stage for every match — James at left, Ken center and Brad on the right — each game would start with a random player picking first. The result was a nail-biter of a two-game match that showcased the strengths of each player in the group.
It was Jennings who won the first night, dominating with some uncharacteristically aggressive play on Daily Doubles to build a considerable lead in the first game and was able to hang on for a dramatic win. Jennings was great throughout the night, with few mistakes and a noticeable command of the signaling device that allowed him to ring in on a number of questions that other contestants clearly knew.
Perhaps shockingly, Holzhauer was unable to find a single Daily Double over the course of two games. Doubling his score on those proved such a pivotal part of his strategy through his record-breaking run of huge wins in 2019, and he was able to replicate that in November’s Tournament of Champions as well. But he proved to be much more than a gambler in the first night of the GOAT tournament, matching Jennings throughout and clawing his way through the two games to get within 200 points of the winning score.
— Steve (@therealspb) January 8, 2020
No one guessed wrong in the first round. Jennings got to play first, but Rutter answered the first question about Chariots of Fire. Holzhauer got the first sports question right, fittingly, then went on a bit of a tear as he searched for the game’s first Daily Double in the higher valued categories. It was Rutter, however, who found it, making it a true Daily Double and doubling his $1800. The blistering regular round ended with Trebek remarking about how well everyone played, with Holzhauer leading with 7,800, Jennings just behind at 7,000 and Rutter with 4,000. Perhaps the best part of the first round, however, was Alex Trebek saying ‘bitchin’ in an 80s category.
Jeopardy on primetime means Alex Trebek can say "bitchin" pic.twitter.com/mKrwOZafeh
— Mark (@tole_cover) January 8, 2020
Rutter found the second Daily Double right away, mimicking Holzhauer’s strategy of betting it all. But his 4,000 was lost on an incorrect answer about a czar, sending him back to zero for the first time on Tuesday. It was Jennings, however, to capitalize on the mistake. He found the second Daily Double and did the same thing: mimicking what made Jeopardy James so deadly in 2019 by making it a true Daily Double.
“This is not where I feel comfortable, but I’m gonna go all in,” Jennings said, risking his entire 8,600 for the final Daily Double of the first game. He got it right and cruised through the second round from there, especially in the Before During and After category.
“I like those,” Jennings said of Before, During, and After. Deciphering complex questions is a known strength of his, after all, and it was a boon that both he and Rutter took away what made Holzhauer such a formidable opponent in most of his other wins. The trio went into Final Jeopardy with Jennings in a commanding lead: 33,200 to Holzhauer’s 16,600 and Rutter a distant 5,200. Final Jeopardy brought new music to the mix, and a question about Presidents and the Bible. All three players got the right response to the question about Calvin Coolidge’s inauguration, with Jennings finishing with a strong 45,000. Holzhauer had 33,200 at the end of the first game, with Rutter finishing with 10,400.
Rutter started the second game first, and again Holzhauer was foiled on finding the Daily Double. Jennings found it again and got a question about Time Travelers right, doubling to 4,800 right away while Rutter still had zero and Holzhauer had just 1,000. Even with the DD off the board, most contestants still went with a bottom-up strategy, but it was Holzhauer who excelled the rest of the round. There were few misses in the first round again, though Holzhauer actually taunted Rutter when he rang in first on a question about Philadelphia, which was hilarious.
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Holzhauer ended the round in the lead with more than 8,000, while Jennings had 7,000 and Rutter kicked off Double Jeopardy with 3,800. Double Jeopardy followed a similar pattern as the other games of the night. Rutter right away found the second Daily Double of the game, wagering 3,800 but answering wrong to go back to zero. Seemingly cursed, he once again found the third and final Daily Double, wagered his entire 2,800 but got a question about philosophers wrong to go back down to zero.
Rutter did his best to mount a comeback, picking off a number of Double Jeopardy questions to climb back into contention of the third game. But Holzhauer held a narrow lead headed into Final Jeopardy, with 15,000, Jennings at 12,200 and Brad with 10,000. That still gave Jennings a lead headed into the final question, with Astronomers the category.
Rutter was wrong on Final Jeopardy, wagering everything and losing it all to finish with a match total of his first round 10,000. Jennings got it right, adding 6,200 to his total to get a two-game total of 63,400. But Holzhauer was also right, wagering it all to double up his score. It wasn’t enough, however, as he finished with a total of 63,200.