#ToC2015 Report From The Sidelines: The Finals


Kaya Chua gave us her behind-the-scenes audience thoughts of the semifinals late last week. Here are her thoughts from the Finals:

Hi everyone! We’ve just gotten back from lunch at the Indian place right next to the studio, and we’re primed and ready for an epic grand final.


This would have been a nightmare board for me (name their instrument and flower wordplay video clues, no, thank you). At least, I learned a lovely new definition for easement!

Alex finds the DD and strikes first! I didn’t know this one, but Judy Blume was the guess in my head. J. K. Rowling was low-hanging negbait for this clue, but it’s been a few years since The Casual Vacancy.

That reminds me. Recent bestsellers is one of those categories that seems to show up pretty frequently on the contestant tests. So if you’re preparing for January, that’s definitely an area I’d recommend looking at.

Seriously zero idea how I knew Alibris. It’s probably a clue I’d be clamming under the lights.

During the break, we had a front row discussion about the vagrant clue, because itinerant and migrant seemed like pretty good options. The Old French etymology was there to tie the clue down to the specific response the writers were looking for.

Onto the DJ! round. The one notable thing I remember about the SNL category was the Col. Sanders clue. We had a discussion after the round about Darrell Hammond being a possibly correct response. But he never hosted Weekend Update and has since passed the drumstick bucket on to Norm MacDonald. Massive negbait.

Next came the most dramatic moment of the match. Alex found an early DD, took a good while to collect himself, and bet it all. I was not surprised, and this is a wager that makes a lot of sense in a two-day total point affair. He got it right, and from that point, it was all about clearing away opportunities for Kerry and Matt to catch up.

The New Horizons flyby of Pluto was one of those things that happened *just* long enough ago to exit the collective consciousness. (Pop quiz: What was the name of that probe that landed on that comet that one time? Bonus: What was the name of that comet?)

Matt found the DD in tutors and got it right. To remember who taught whom, I use the incredibly boring initialism SPAA (Socrates → Plato → Aristotle → Alexander).

Kerry had a nice get with “South Side of Chicago.” Comiskey Park (okay, technically U.S. Cellular Field, but seriously, Comiskey) is on the South Side, so knowing that President Obama is a White Sox fan is how I’d get there.

Peter Abelard was a great get by Alex that I thought was a bit undervalued.

Okay, the North Pole clue. I remember there was some controversy in the front row because one of us thought that Trebek should have prompted Kerry to be more specific. The ZIP code in the clue (12997) is the location of a Santa’s Workshop theme park in upstate New York, but there is also a North Pole, Alaska with ZIP code 99705. Apparently, the Post Office receives quite a few letters from children addressed to Santa at North Pole, Alaska, but without a complete mailing address, those letters actually remain in their area for Secret Santas to deliver presents to local children in need.

It’s even more complicated, because there are quite a few children who surmise that Santa’s ZIP code would obviously be 12345. That just happens to be the ZIP code for General Electric’s campus in Schenectady, New York. So every year, GE’s employees respond to all of the letters in Santa’s stead. And since I’m sure there are a few other Santa places in the U.S., I’m going to go with North Pole being acceptable on its own.

So onto the not-really-final Jeopardy! round. I’ve always thought that Day 1 FJ wagering is one of the toughest decisions in any format of the game. It’s kind of like a DD that everyone is guaranteed a shot at. If this were a favorable category, I’d be inclined to go big with a lead, and I would not have been surprised if Alex chose to make another move. But it’s a ToC final, the writers had already shown a propensity for negbait, and Alex was clearly on with his buzzer timing, so letting Matt and Kerry have to earn their way back was definitely a sound decision.

I precalled the correct FJ response of “Who is The Count of Monte Cristo?” and probably would not have gotten it otherwise. So perhaps future contestants are advised to milk some of that wagering time fake-doodling while you ponder items that fit the category?



With Alex nursing a big halftime lead, Matt and Kerry don’t have much choice but to take risks to get back into it. It’s an uphill road. At least one of them needs a pre-FJ lead of $13,000 and change over Alex just to avoid a lock.

Alex was correct on the first clue and immediately switched to First Column Lit Category for $800. I approve.

Mackenzie River was a great get for Kerry. That geography study paid off! As is the refrain around these parts, Know Your Canada.

I was not a fan of the lesser-known superheroes category. I don’t necessarily think it’s out of place in a ToC final, but if the writers are going to do cute, I’d prefer to get my fix of BEFORE, DURING & AFTER.

Alex found the DD and doubled up for knowing that the track at Daytona is 2.5 miles. Indianapolis is also 2.5 miles. I think that Talladega is the longest oval track in the U.S. at about 2 ⅔ miles. (I may have owned a NASCAR video game at some point.)

Once DJ arrived, Alex’s goal was just to clear the time bombs off the board. He found the first one in the Asian history category, went low, and gave the correct response of Manchu just as the buzzer went off. This was super close and necessitated a fair delay in taping to get the judges’ ruling. I actually thought he was a split second late at the time, but that’s the power of replay.

The $2000 chemistry clue was kind of awesome. The first step was recognizing that they wanted you to do the math: 116 – 96 = 20. The second step was remembering which element has atomic number 20 (the number of protons). What is calcium? By the way, this would be a great clue for Math Jeopardy! *hint* *hint*

Matt found the other DD, and he immediately apologized to his mom for wagering big, but there was clearly no other option. Unfortunately, it was a tough clue, with the USDA being a very plausible possibility. The USDA is responsible for inspecting meat and eggs, which is an exception to the FDA’s jurisdiction. And with that, Alex basically has it wrapped up.

Did anyone else know Kamchatka from playing way too much Risk in their youth? It’s okay to admit it. No judgment.

I have to express my sincere gratitude to the writers for those bowdlerized movie quotes. What a gift to humanity. Falcon precious.

So it’s a Philosophers final! I had zero idea on this one, and Kerry’s pull of Kierkegaard was just fantastic.


What an incredible tournament. Fighting spirit prizes to Matt and Kerry for working to claw their way back into it. And all praises to Alex for a lights out performance and a well earned victory.

There was a cool moment right after the game wrapped up. Matt’s original run had just finished airing, so instead of sending his regular season winnings through the mail, they handed him the check right there in the studio. Pretty neat!

Oh, and let’s not forget a shout out to the #IFollowedMikeDuval campaign, which reached a truly epic level with Maggie and J! royalty wearing buttons at the commissary party. We found out about the campaign’s success that day and made sure to celebrate the feat at that evening’s O’Brien’s Pub Quiz. Speaking of which, I had the incredible honor to be a member of the Vaughntourage at O’Brien’s! Go Team! Georg Cantor!!

I am so thankful for having had opportunity to attend and doubly so for all the friends I’ve made that I got to see in person. They’ve easily been the greatest reward from having appeared on the show, and I am humbled to be a part of this community.

Thanks for reading! Until next time, enjoy the holidays and good luck on the contestant test!