“I just wore them out by winning”: Matt Amodio GRD ’23 reflects on “Jeopardy!” streak
The fifth-year computer science doctoral candidate looks back on his record-breaking run, and looks forward to what lies ahead.
Courtesy of Jeopardy Productions, Inc.
He won 38 consecutive games on quiz game show “Jeopardy!” — the second longest in the show’s history.
What’s Matt Amodio GRD ’23?
After his record-breaking run on the show came to an end, the fifth-year computer science Ph.D. candidate spoke with the News about his time on the show. He amassed $1,518,601 while winning 38 games in a row — a record that sits only behind the 74-game mark set in 2004 by Ken Jennings. Amodio also gained notoriety by beginning every response with “what’s” instead of always using the most grammatically correct pronoun — a strategy scorned by “Jeopardy!” purists but defended by the show’s producers. Even as the spotlight has been shined on him, the Medina, Ohio native said that his life has not changed all too drastically.
“I think the only thing that’s changed really is how much attention I’m getting,” Amodio said. “But it hasn’t changed my day-to-day or hour-to-hour life all that much … I had something happen that made me popular, and then as that thing becomes farther and farther away in time, I will become less and less popular. I know that I don’t have to acclimate to the changes too much. Just trying to ride the wave and enjoy it.”
Amodio’s regular-season winnings amounted to the third-highest total in the show’s history, behind Jennings’ $2,520,700 and James Holzhauer’s $2,462,216. His plan is “not to spend a single penny.”
“I’m a frugal guy, so if I were to try to go out and buy a Lamborghini I just wouldn’t feel comfortable,” he said.
Amodio, who plans to finish his studies at the end of this academic year, has begun writing his dissertation. In his research, he applies neural networks to learn from biological data in “a lot of different ways.”
Upon graduation, Amodio plans to apply to post-doctoral research opportunities, as well as some professorship opportunities.
“It’s hard to get a professor job right out of the Ph.D., but the worst they can say is no,” Amodio explained. “So I’ll apply.”
As Amodio has continued his work in the lab, the “elephant in the room” that was his “Jeopardy!” run has followed him around. As he first started winning games on the show, his labmates would often send him congratulatory messages.
However, his coworkers began to show signs of fatigue with regards to sending Amodio their compliments as his streak continued.
“It was pretty funny where I definitely heard from them less in the latter part of the run,” Amodio said. “I think that they were running out of things to say. They said ‘congratulations,’ they went to a thesaurus and found some synonyms for ‘congratulations’ and so that lasted them for a couple of games, but then I just wore them out by winning.”
As “Jeopardy!” tapes episodes months in advance of their airing on television, Amodio — as is the case with all contestants on the show — knew the results of his games well before the general public. Yet when interacting with fans of the show on social media or when speaking with friends, he was forced to stay with the timeline of when the episodes aired to avoid spoilers.
For his first 18 games, which coincided with the conclusion of Season 37 of the show, Amodio found it easy to “be happy and play along” because he knew that his winning streak went through the rest of the season.
“Then I taped my loss,” Amodio said. “And it was a little harder to pretend to be happy for all the wins because I knew that the loss was coming.”
Still, Amodio found enjoyment in getting “to be an actor for a little bit,” putting himself back in the moment of the games as they aired.
Amodio’s run on the game show allowed him many other once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. On Aug. 4, the Akron RubberDucks — a Class AA minor league baseball team — invited him to throw out the first pitch at a game against the Altoona Curve. Two months — and a few more “Jeopardy!” wins — later on Oct. 4, Amodio made an appearance on ABC’s nationally televised morning show “Good Morning America.”
“A lot of people watch [Good Morning America], even more people than who watch ‘Jeopardy!’”, Amodio said. “I was visiting family on Long Island and they sent a chauffeur to get me, and it just made me feel important, in a way that I don’t think I ever have or probably never will again in my life, so that was fun.”
Going into his first “Jeopardy!” taping, Amodio’s goal was to win one game. Amodio has watched the show since he was a child, and of the 39 games he played, his first game — the one that eternally made him a “Jeopardy!” champion — is still his favorite moment on the show.
Amodio’s relationship with trivia extends past the quiz game show he dominated. He does online trivia quizzes and plays the board game Trivial Pursuit frequently. He also goes to bar trivia on a weekly basis, but unfortunately his success on television has brought along unintended consequences.
“The problem is that the expectations are so high,” the “Jeopardy!” champion explained. “If we don’t win now it’s going to just be taunting the whole time.”
All contestants who win at least five games on “Jeopardy!” are awarded an automatic bid in the annual Tournament of Champions, an event Amodio will enter as the heavy favorite. However, on Friday, Jonathan Fisher — the contestant who defeated Amodio — notched his fifth win, ensuring his own bid and setting up a potential rematch.
Amodio expressed some nervousness about the upcoming Tournament of Champions, explaining that over a year will pass between taping his regular season games and the tournament, which could lead to him being “rusty.”
“I’m a little nervous about going in with high expectations that I should dominate and then just underwhelm with my performance,” he said. “Hopefully I do well. It should be fun no matter what, but I am a little nervous.”
Amodio said that watching the reactions of people when his games aired was satisfying, but nothing compared to the feeling of going to the studio and winning games when asked what his fondest memory would be in 10-15 years.
“I think it would have been a great experience, even if Jeopardy was not a television show and it was just something that you went into the studio and you played a game and then went away,” he said. “I’m a competitive guy, I love knowing things and just the sheer competition was so fun.”
During his time on the show, Amodio provided 1,299 correct responses.