Yale’s Matt Amodio on ‘Jeopardy!’ highest wins list with over $540K

Yale University PhD student Matthew Amodio has become a 17-game returning champion on television quiz show, “Jeopardy!” and has won $547,600 in his victory spree. 

His 17th victory was enough to earn him a spot on the game show’s all-time rankings lists. He is now the third highest earner in regular-season "Jeopardy!" play, and comes behind James Holzhauer, who recorded $2,462,216 in prize money, and Ken Jennings, whose winnings totaled $2,520,700.

“The show has had so many brilliant people [on it],” Amodio said of joining the likes of Holzhauer and Jennings. “I’m honored to be thought of as even close to them.”

Amodio also leading the game show's Tournament of Champions Tracker with his 17-game winning spree, placing nine wins ahead of contestant Brian Chang of Chicago, whose total winnings amount to $163,904.

Amodio said in a statement that he is not getting too comfortable in his winning streak. 

“If you get too much in a rut, you might start making mistakes,” he said. “I’ve tried to keep it fresh each time.”

Amodio's success on the show isn't the only reason he's garnered attention. "Jeopardy!" responded to social media chatter questioning his use of "What's..." as a template for answering all prompts on the show. According to the show's rules, all contestants must respond "in the form of a question," which permits Amodio's use of "What's..." in all his answers. All contestants must continue to respond in the form of a question through the Double Jeopardy! round, according to the show's rules, but in Final Jeopardy!, contestants are briefed on the game's final steps, which "includes giving the contestants the appropriate 'Who' or 'What' for the final clue."

Amodio’s winning streak kicked off on July 21, when the fifth-year PhD student from Cleveland, Ohio studying artificial intelligence made his debut in the competition with “Good Morning America” host Robin Roberts guest hosting the quiz show. Ahead of his first appearance on “Jeopardy!” Amodio told Hearst Connecticut while he’s a “lifelong 'Jeopardy!' watcher,” he never planned on auditioning.

“I have crippling self-doubt, as I think any healthy human being should,” he said. “My parents prodded me to do it, and I just took the online test more out of appeasing them than anything else. Lo and behold, I got an email back and I said, ‘OK, you’re right, it was a good idea.’”

With sportscaster Joe Buck began his week-long stint as the “Jeopardy!” guest host on Aug. 9, Amodio said that being a returning champion is not as comfortable as it might look. 

"As a returning champion, it is a weird experience because your opponents think you've settled all of your nerves, have everything under control and are very confident," he said. "But inside I'm just as nervous as ever and still have the same lack of confidence I had going in! In that position, you just have to do your best to stay composed, but that isn't easy!"

The Yale contestant still has a long way to go before breaking any major "Jeopardy!" records. According to the show's "Hall of Fame," the most consecutive games won by a single contestant is 74, a record set by Ken Jennings during the 2004-2005 season. The record for the highest all-time winnings by a competitor participating in regular-season and tournament contest goes to Brad Rutter, who amassed cumulative winnings of $4,938,436. 

Amodio will compete once again on Friday for the final episode of the show’s 37th season, and will square off against Nicolle Neulist of Chicago and Eric Shi of Houston, Texas. The episode will air at 7 p.m. on WTNH-TV (ABC).