Matt Amodio is making Jeopardy! history on a daily basis. He’s climbing up the all-time rankings at a serious clip, all while annoying purists for his use of the word “what.” Amodio has finally explained himself.
What’s Wrong With What?
Amodio has already earned over half a million dollars and currently stands at fourth all-time for total earnings. He’s got a ways to go before reaching the $2520700 set by Ken Jennings, but he’s blazing a trail all the same. He broke two records this past week, and he looks untouchable.
Two things stick out about Amodio: his love of the true daily double (including an extremely risky $13000 bet that could have cost him everything), and his use of the words “what’s” when responding to the guest hosts. He seldom answers “who is,” it’s always “what’s.” Jeopardy! fans, who aren’t afraid to speak their mind, are almost universally disturbed by this.
Tension over his grammar breaking got so strong that Jeopardy! actually responded. The show clarified that his responses are “totally acceptable,” even if the grammar’s wonky at best. Amodio is now explaining why he does it.
Why Does He Do This?
Amodio is always announced as a “Ph.D. student from New Haven, CT,” so it’s no surprise that he would speak to the Yale School of Engineering And Applied Science, where he is earning his degree. It’s an interesting interview where he discusses neural networks and his preparation. He explained that his use of “what’s” is a conscious choice.
Amodio says, “I have a strategy where I form all of my questions with a ‘what’s’ at the beginning – then, I can focus on the rest of the clue.” He knows people don’t like it, adding, “Other people have been very upset about me being robotic instead of forming a question differently each time. I was glad that Jeopardy! said this was perfectly within the rules. I’ve watched Jeopardy! every day of my life, so I knew it was OK.”
Free To Focus
By using the word “what’s,” Amodio is freeing his mind to focus. He explained himself further: “It’s cleaner and where there are fewer things moving, there are fewer things that can go wrong.” Using the word “what’s” effectively cuts off his brain from doing work it doesn’t need to. While it doesn’t sound pretty, you cannot argue with Amodio’s results. This kind of thinking is what separates Jeopardy! contestants from champions.
Amodio’s been a stabilizing force as Jeopardy! entered its final weeks of guest hosts. Odds are high that he’ll still be the champion when Mayim Bialik and Mike Richards take over permanent hosting duties. That can change with just one show, however, so we’ll all need to tune in to find out.