#ThrowbackThursday – Greatest Champion Performances


Last week, I wrote up the top 10 debut performances on Jeopardy!; this week: The top 10 performances by a returning champion in regular play. I’ve stripped out Ken Jennings’ games for a future list, mostly because he occupies most of the actual Top 10 at the moment.

Once again, the criterion being used here: Coryat scoring. (Don’t worry, Myron, your win will make it into a Top 10 list eventually!)

Some of these performances are by some of the all-time greats. Others caught lightning-in-a-bottle for one incredible performance. Without any further ado though, I’ll start this list off with a record that nearly 30 years later still holds up.

10. Jack Lechner, December 2, 1988

Jack’s certainly no Bob Beers (who was the earliest person recorded to have bet $10,000 on a Daily Double, a wager still the largest in the J! Archive after taking clue doubling into account, but in his third game on December 2, 1988, Jack Lechner had everything: buzzer timing and wagering aggression. His 38 (!) correct responses in this game included going 3/5 in five categories, 4/5 in four more, and 5/5 in a tenth. His two Daily Double wagers in Double Jeopardy: $4,000 and $8,000. His score going into Final Jeopardy has yet to be equalled in the over 6,200 episodes since: a pre-doubled $27,500. Not even Ken Jennings can say he had $55,000 going into Final. His Coryat in this steamrollering of poor Donna Levin and Steve Burns: $15,800.

In Final Jeopardy (Category: MONARCHS): Jack was unable to come up with the correct response on the following clue: This Queen of England was the granddaughter of Ferdinand & Isabella of Spain (Mary I/Bloody Mary; Jack said Elizabeth I), and wagered an incredible $15,000 — meaning he finished the day at $12,500. A correct response on this clue would have meant one-day winnings of $42,500 — a score which would still be the one-day record if doubling were taken into account.

Unfortunately for Jack, his less-than-stellar record in Final Jeopardy led to his finishing as only a 4-day champion, earning just $33,000, which just wasn’t enough money to qualify for any future tournaments.

T8. Leszek Pawlowicz, October 11, 1991

After getting 25 correct his first time out, Leszek Pawlowicz demonstrated why he’s considered one of the all-time greats on Day 2. In the second half of the Jeopardy! round, Leszek picked up 13 of the 15 clues! The final clue of the Jeopardy! round was a Triple Stumper, leading a shocked Alex to exclaim, “I can’t believe Leszek didn’t ring in on this. It’s been The Alex & Leszek Show for the last few minutes.” That was en route to a nearly-unbelievable 24 correct responses in that opening round. The Double Jeopardy! round saw Leszek struggle comparatively, picking up only 16 correct and dropping $4,000 on a Daily Double. Incredibly, challenger Nick Pyle was a couple of correct responses away from beating Leszek; however, Nick missed both a penultimate-clue Daily Double as well as Final Jeopardy. Leszek also missed Final, dropping another $4,700, to finish at $8,000. However, his Coryat for the game was an incredible $16,100.

Leszek ended up winning 5 games, just over $75,000, and went on to win the Tournament of Champions, defeating Jerome Vered in the final. He was one of the few undefeated players going into the Ultimate Tournament of Champions, but was felled by Tad Carrithers in an upset in Round 1, after a crucial late-game neg (Leszek said that the song “Kansas City” was in The Music Man instead of Oklahoma!). He rebounded, though, in the Battle of the Decades, losing to Brad Rutter in the semifinal of that event.

T8. Paul Kursky, June 22, 2010

One of the all-time great lightning-in-a-bottle Jeopardy! performances has to go to the Double Jeopardy! round of Paul Kursky’s fifth game. In his first four, he got 17, 25, 13, and 21 clues correct. Through 11 clues of Double Jeopardy!, Paul had 19 correct, and Chris Vermillion was only $3,000 behind. Paul then proceeded to get 17 of the final 19 clues — including runs of LUAU LUAU and WE GOTTA GO NOW — en route to a Coryat of $32,200 and 36 correct responses. Though he missed Final Jeopardy! that day, dropping only $3,600, he ended up claiming $32,800 in total to bring his 5-day total to $109,411. Joey Genereux wasn’t fazed, though: he defeated Paul in Kursky’s attempt to become a superchampion, and Paul struggled in his Tournament of Champions quarterfinal against Buddy Wright and Erin McLean.

7. David Madden, July 11, 2005

Much like Ken Jennings, David Madden’s best performance (at least Coryat-wise) came early in his run. In his fifth game, David had his opponents demoralized early on. At one point, on a $200 clue, Annemarie Gallagher exclaimed after ringing in, “I didn’t think I’d get in. I’m blank”; fortunately that just cost her $200. En route to a Coryat of $33,000, David picked up 35 correct over the course of the game. He went 3/5 in four categories, 4/5 in 3, and ran PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN SLOGAN YEARS. This was in spite of Jessica Schreader running a category on Joel Schumacher! David’s four bets though: a combined $2,900, so he only picked up $32,100 on the day.

David went on to win 19 games before losing to Victoria Groce, and reached the semifinals of the Tournament of Champions, where Bill MacDonald pulled off a major upset.

6. Matt Jackson, October 8, 2015

Of Matt Jackson’s recent run of victories on Jeopardy!, his most dominating performance came in his 10th game, against Erik Latshaw and Sameer Rawal. En route to 34 correct responses (amongst no negs), Matt went 3/5 in five categories and 4/5 in three others! His Coryat for the game? $33,400. In a rarity for one of these “top” performances, two clues went unplayed! Matt tended to be fast, so I’m not entirely sure why – maybe it was the Mr. Peabody & Sherman category? Also running up Matt’s score: Some good sized Daily Double wagers, including a $5,200 in the Jeopardy! round and a pair of $4,000s in Double Jeopardy, which I’m sure at least made one wagering website happy! Going into Final, Matt had $42,400. Although he dropped $4,200 in Final, it brought his 10-day total to $289,411.

Matt’s run ended at 14 games (13 wins), the fourth-longest in the history of the show. In the Tournament of Champions final, Alex Jacob demolished everyone in sight, Matt included, who had to be content settling for second place.


T4. Steve Chernicoff, September 7, 1994

If there’s a player who I figure I’ll be writing more about in an addendum to this post, it’ll probably be Steve Chernicoff. Currently, his fifth game is the only one of his original run in the J! Archive, and oh, what a game it was! Steve came into it a 4-day champion, winnings $59,202, and started slowly; at the first commercial break he only had $1,300. However, he found another gear afterwards, having $5,800 after the Jeopardy! round after getting 21 correct in the round! (He had one neg, in spelling, after giving actress Daryl Hannah a second R.) He did slightly worse in Double Jeopardy, only picking up 20 correct, but when the carnage was over, he had gone 3/5 in 4 categories, 4/5 in five more, and 5/5 in a tenth en route to a Coryat of $16,800! As he’d dropped $3,000 on a Daily Double, his score going into Final Jeopardy was only $18,200. A get in Final Jeopardy – and a bet of $6,500 – led to a score of $24,700 and a five-day total of $83,902.

In the Tournament of Champions, Steve had a commanding lead — but not a lock — going into Final Jeopardy against Jeff Stewart in the semifinals. A slipup in Final Jeopardy led to one of the bigger upsets in the history of the show; Stewart finished second in the final to Rachael Schwartz. Round 3 of the Ultimate Tournament of Champions saw Steve put Brad Rutter on the ropes, with another commanding lead going into Final in one of the tournament’s best games, but another misstep in Final led to Brad advancing to Round 4 by the margin of $1.

T4. Dan Melia, September 4, 1997

Equalling Steve Chernicoff’s performance, nearly three years to the day later, was Dan Melia. Dan’s run got off to a slower start, trailing Patrick Friel in his debut (in spite of 23 correct), and then winning the first three games of Season 14, with strong but not amazing games. His fifth game, however, was one of
the greats
. Going into that fifth game, Dan had won $51,600 over his first four. Dan managed 15 correct in the Jeopardy! round (though he did run BIBLICAL DEATH PENALTIES). In the Double Jeopardy! round, Dan put up 19 more! What was most impressive about that 19 is that 13 of them came at the $600, $800, and $1000 levels of the board! That led to Dan having $20,600 going into Final – $16,800 of that being Coryat. Another $3,400 came in Final and Dan left his original run of the show $75,600 and a Corvette richer.

Dan’s Tournament of Champions was immortalized in Bob Harris’ Prisoner of Trebekistan (as an aside: I can’t find my copy of it, and it’s making me sad.); Bob as well as Kim Worth tried valiantly to keep Dan from a lock tournament, but it was not to be for them and Dan took home another $100,000. Also, Dan had the unique opportunity to get married on the Jeopardy! set itself! (Bob officiated.)

The Ultimate Tournament of Champions saw Dan roll through his first two games reasonably easily, before running into the buzzsaw known as Jerome Vered in Round 3. Pam Mueller defeated him and Fritz Holznagel in the Battle of Decades preliminaries.

3. Roger Craig, September 14, 2010

The first day of Season 27 saw Roger bet $12,400 on a mid-Double Jeopardy! round Daily Double; it was certainly a harbinger of things to come. Game 2 started out alright for Mandy Strine and Tony Fan – at least in the respect that Roger let them ring in once in awhile. After the J! round, though, Roger had $13,000. Of the 25 clues plays in Double Jeopardy (5 clues were left unplayed, likely due to the fact that the three players combined for 11 negs), Roger picked up an incredible TWENTY-TWO. Roger only bet $7,000 and $5,000 on his Daily Doubles (in spite of Alex trying to goad Roger into larger bets), leading to a Coryat of $34,400 and a score of $47,000 going into Final Jeopardy. With the one-day record in sight, Roger’s $30,000 bet in Final Jeopardy! worked out for him to the tune of the one-day record of $77,000. He ended up a 6-day champion, picking up $230,200 over his six wins.

Roger’s Tournament of Champions was best known for his hitting back-to-back True Daily Doubles in Game 1 of the final and essentially coasting from there.

The Battle of the Decades saw Roger continue his streak of getting 17 straight Daily Doubles correct; unfortunately, he missed a pair of them in the final, dropping $10,200 each time. However, he ended up third to Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings.

2. Brian Weikle, April 14, 2003

Brian came into the game on Monday, April 14, 2003 as a 2-day champion with winnings of $52,800. One of his opponents was Phillip Steele, who was brought back due to a technical error in his fifth game. Brian once recounted that Phillip wasn’t even sure why he was brought back. Poor Maura O’Keefe, though. Brian got the buzzer timing down very well in that game, en route to 22 correct in the Jeopardy! round. He only got 19 more in Double Jeopardy (though over the course of the game, he went 3/5 in four categories, 4/5 in four categories, and 5/5 in two more). He had $37,000 going into Final Jeopardy ($35,000 of that being Coryat). Another $15,000 in Final meant that Brian had both a one-day record of $52,000 and had also broken Frank Spangenberg’s regular-play winnings record (of course, it needs to be said that Frank’s record took place before the clue value doubling). Brian ended up winning $149,200 in his five games (and a Jaguar X-Type).

Brian’s Tournament of Champions saw him very nearly beat Mark Dawson, if not for an unfortunate math error on Day 2 of the Final that left Brian $199 short of Mark’s total.

In the Ultimate Tournament of Champions, after getting a bye to Round 2, Grace Veach managed to pull close to Brian after a pair of True Daily Doubles in Double Jeopardy. Final Jeopardy was a Triple Stumper, and Brian unfortunately went home.

1. Jerome Vered, May 21, 1992

As best as I can tell, only two players in the Archive have had $30,000 Coryats at least twice in their first five games: One is Ken Jennings (with 3). The other? Jerome Vered. Jerome’s first was recounted last week. Here’s his second.

Going into his fourth game on May 21, 1992, Jerome Vered was a 3-day champion with $47,401 in winnings. His opponents: Hank Widmayer and Devon Ericson. After picking up 15 correct in the Jeopardy! round and having (only $5,700), you might wonder why this got to #1 on our list. Well, as Jerome probably has some of the best bottom-of-the-board knowledge in the history of the show, it should come as absolutely no surprise that he went 12/12 at the $800 and $1000 level in this game. He was no slouch at the top of the board either, picking up 22 correct in the entire round, en route to $24,900 going into Final Jeopardy. His Coryat? An incredible $17,900. Of course, Jerome picked up $9,100 in Final for a one-day record of $34,000 — a record that, when doubled, has only been surpassed twice since (Ken Jennings and Roger Craig). Jerome picked up $15,400 in his fifth game for a 5-day total of $96,801. (For the rest of Jerome’s run, you can check out the write-up in last week’s article).

Once again, any surprises from you after reading this? Leave a comment!


1 Comment on "#ThrowbackThursday – Greatest Champion Performances"

  1. If Patrick Friel had started his run four days earlier, Dan Melia might not have won his TOC.

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