As it stands, we’re halfway to finding out who will fill out the roster for Jeopardy‘s Tournament of Champions. This year, the show added a wrinkle to deciding just who should play in the annual invitational: bringing back a slew of non-winners to get another shot at glory. Two players will advance from the Second Chance Tournament into the Tournament of Champions, which starts on Halloween night.
Friday’s airing brought one side of that bracket to a finish, as Jessica Stephens cruised to a victory in the Week One final. The victory was impressive: not only did Stephens outlast some strong players, she managed to do it in runaway fashion. And as the Jeopardy! YouTube channel pointed out in a video on Monday, the win makes a bit of Jeopardy! history dating back to her first appearance on the show.
The Second Chance Tournament is full of almost-winners for one reason or another. But Stephens had a unique distinction: her Season 38 performance came against 38-day champion Matt Amodio and the man who ended his run, Jonathan Fisher. Stephens was just $200 off the lead headed into Final Jeopardy and finished in second place, ahead of Amodio, in the game. But Fisher won, the first of his 11 game streak that earned himself a spot in the Tournament of Champions, too.
Stephens punching her ticket, then, marks the first time a regular season trio of contestants have all qualified for the Tournament of Champions. Put it this way: contestants can only appear in regular season matches once, and while a 5+ game winner could lose to another contestant who also makes the Tournament of Champions, there’s always a third contestant playing just one match and going home. Except, well, Stephens, which makes that first matchup quite a heavyweight battle to say the least. And, as Stephens explained, certainly put her a bit more at ease when it came to the Second Chance Tournament.
“The fact that I played against two super champions in that first game… it felt familiar this time to play against such great former contestants,” Stephens told Jeopardy’s website. “I’m still surprised [because] when I said that I would love to see Jonathan and Matt again I was joking.”
Amodio, Amy Schneider and Mattea Roach will certainly be some of the big favorites heading into the actual Tournament of Champions next week, but if you’re looking for a dark horse to keep an eye on, you could certainly do worse than Stephens right now.