‘WHO IS MATT AMODIO?’
Yale ‘Jeopardy!’ whiz everyone is talking about
In 2004, viewers of the television quiz show “Jeopardy!” watched Ken Jennings conclude a 74-game win streak and amass over $2.5 million in winnings. Fifteen years later, another phenom by the name of James Holzhauer came along, and gave Jennings a run for his records with a 32-game spree on the show and over $2.5 million earned.
Jennings and Holzhauer held their spots at the top of the “Jeopardy!” Hall of Fame for years, returning for “Tournament of Champions” play and other specials. But on July 21, 2021, a Yale University Ph.D. student named Matt Amodio took his turn behind one of the “Jeopardy!” contestant podiums and tallied a $40,400 victory.
Two months and several “Jeopardy!” host changes later, Amodio hasn’t left that podium. The computer science student has instead closed in on Jennings’ and Holzhauer’s records and made himself a household name in the process.
It’s a long way from where the Ohio native began —or almost didn’t begin, since Amodio told Hearst Connecticut prior to his first “Jeopardy!” appearance that his parents were the ones to talk him into auditioning for the show. He now finds himself with a 28-game (and counting) winning streak, over $1 million in prize money and placing just behind Jennings and Holzhauer on two of the show’s Hall of Fame lists.
Amodio also earned the recognition of Gov. Ned Lamont, who told the returning champion via video chat that he was showing “how smart we are in Connecticut.” Amodio’s newfound fame was cemented when he earned the coveted status of a “verified” account on Twitter in midAugust.
This influx of attention has been something of an adjustment, Amodio told Hearst Connecticut.
“I have been very uncomfortable!” he said in an email interview. “I’m an introverted person at heart, and maybe over enough time I would get used to this amount of attention, but that time has certainly not come yet. I still get chills when I see an article written about me. Me? Me, me?”
Even in a recent op-ed for Hearst Connecticut, Amodio shared that while he appreciates his run on “Jeopardy!” he still can’t grapple with how it has turned him into a public figure.
“I’ll never get used to the fact that I’m on TV or my name is in the paper or that strangers know who I am,” he wrote. “I’m a pretty introverted person. That hasn’t prevented me from thoroughly enjoying the whole experience, though!”
While Amodio might still be getting used to his new following, the headlines and social media buzz he’s managed to generate have outpaced him. Even the way he buzzes in with responses on the show has drawn attention, generating chatter on social media for his use of “What’s…” rather than "What is..." as a template for answering all prompts on the show.
His rapid-fire intelligence captures the attention of social media users, with Twitter fans praising him for being a “scholar” and asking if he has a photographic memory.
On Reddit, commenters have posed questions wondering how Amodio —
along with Jennings and Holzhauer — are able to instantly recall vast amount of information to answer ‘Jeopardy!” clues.
For Amodio, it comes down to having a “love of knowledge” and a passion for trivia that makes him seek out information on topics ranging from history to politics.
“I’ve always been a trivia enthusiast, and so the way I acquire knowledge is by reading a lot and doing so with the idea of, 'How can this become a trivia question?' in the back of my head at all times,” he wrote in his op-ed for Hearst Connecticut.
“I read Wikipedia articles for entertainment, starting from one article and then linking to a bunch of interesting topics I see in that article, which leads me to a bunch of others, and so on until I realize it’s time to go to bed.”
While he admits his “weaker area” is pop culture, it doesn’t stop him from using almost every “Daily Doubly” question he gets to his advantage by placing some lofty wagers. The two highest amounts he has risked were $13,000 in an Aug. 3 “Double Jeopardy!” round for a question on Australian history, which he correctly answered. Most recently — and perhaps most notably — he wagered $15,000 in a Sept. 21 “Double Jeopardy!” round on a clue from the “Prizes and Awards” category asking for the name of an award given for computer science. He guessed incorrectly, and later poked fun at himself on Twitter for it, but he still managed to defeat the second-place contestant with a $29,600 margin.
Risky wagers, runaway victories and all, Amodio previously told Hearst Connecticut that he is keeping his head about him when it comes to minding the $1,004,001 in prize money he’s racked up, as of Sept. 24.
“I'm going to save it,” he said. “I have been living on small PhD stipends for a while, and being the cautious person I am, I am very uncomfortable that I haven't been building a rainy-day fund or a future investment for myself. Now I am very fortunate to be able to have some of the security that comes with that.”
Each “Jeopardy!” game brings new challengers, new questions and yet one more chance for Amodio to defend his crown as the show’s current returning champion. Whether he will continue to inch closer to Jennings’ and Holzhauer’s records remains to be seen, but what is certain is that Amodio is enjoying everything that’s come his way.
“…I had fun before even winning one game,” he told Hearst Connecticut. “The experience as a whole is just a blast. I encourage everybody to try out, because in the worst case, they had fun taking the online test, and in the best case…well, look at me!”