Jeopardy Champions Wildcard Tournament explained

Ken Jennings, from Jeopardy
Ken Jennings, from Jeopardy / Getty Images/GettyImages

Regular Jeopardy viewers will have noticed that, rather than the usual fare, the show is currently running the “Champions Wildcard Tournament.” This is a chance for winners from seasons 37 and 38 to prove that they deserve to participate in the upcoming Tournament of Champions. 

However, the Wildcard Tournament is a new addition to the Jeopardy line-up, and the rules have not been properly explained. The ‘finals’ aired on October 18 and 19, but then there was another version of the same tournament the next day!

While Jeopardy hasn’t had a standard episode in a while now, the tournaments are getting to be a bit much for many fans. This is especially a problem when they don’t know what to expect, as was the case for the Wildcard Tournament. 

Here’s all the information we have on what the tournament is and how it functions.

What is the structure of the Champions Wildcard Tournament?

In order to give as many people as possible the chance to earn their way into the Tournament of Champions, the Wildcard Tournament is running on four tracks, each defined by one of the suits from a traditional deck of cards.

In each track, there are nine rounds of quarterfinals (featuring 27 contestants). The winner of each game moves onto the semi-finals, where there will be three distinct rounds, each with their own set of contestants. The winners of each round then make their way into the finals, where a two-day competition decides the ultimate winner.

The winners of each track do not then compete against each other. Not immediately, anyway. All four winners will enter into the Tournament of Champions, where they will be pitted against their fellow winners, as well as those who qualified for the tournament in the more traditional way.

What is the schedule for the Wildcard Tournament?

Group 1: Spades

  • Quarterfinals: October 2-6, 9-12
  • Semifinals: October 13, 16, and 17
  • Finals: October 18 and 19

Group 2: Diamonds

  • Quarterfinals: October 20, 23-27, 30-31 and November 1
  • Semifinals: November 2, 3, and 6
  • Finals: November 7 and 8

Group 3: Clubs

  • Quarterfinals: November 9-10, 13-17, 20-21
  • Semifinals: November 22, 23, and 24
  • Finals: November 27 and 28

Group 4: Hearts

  • Quarterfinals: November 29-30 and December 1, 4-8, 11
  • Semifinals: December 12, 13, and 14
  • Finals: December 15 and 18

Why are there four versions of the tournament?

There are a couple of reasons for this tournament having so many rounds. The generous explanation is that the producers wanted as many people as possible to have the chance to compete. There are 108 contestants participating in the Wildcard Tournament, giving practically every prior contestant their fair chance.

Since those who didn’t win had a chance to prove their skills in the Second Chance Tournament, it would be hard to justify not allowing competitors who had won a few games their own chance to qualify for the Tournament of Champions.

However, the more cynical answer is that the WGA strike left Jeopardy without enough pre-written questions to host a traditional season. They made the decision to recycle previously used questions, but showrunner Michael Davies shared on the Inside Jeopardy! podcast that he felt it was unfair to give old material to new contestants.

With that in mind, the Second Chance Tournament and the Champions Wildcard Tournament both include clues from previous episodes. Given that the writers' strike lasted for nearly 150 days, they needed to fill a lot of time. 

Additionally, Mayim Bialik refused to host Jeopardy during the strike, in solidarity with the union. As Jennings has historically hosted many of the Tournaments, it made sense to continue with tournament specials while she was away from the show.

The fact that the four tracks play off of the ‘card’ imagery is likely just an added bonus.

How did they choose who would compete?

Because the standard requirement to earn a spot in the Tournament of Champions is winning four or more consecutive games, the contestants who are eligible for the Wilcard Tournament are those who won between one and three games over the course of seasons 37 and 38.

In addition, the winners from this year’s Second Chance Tournaments were added to the lineup, making them face off against other winners to get into the TOC. 

Producer Sarah Whitcomb Foss shared on the Inside Jeopardy! Podcast that all contestants who fit those criteria were invited, though some may have been unable to attend.

One outlier in the contestant line-up is Isaac Applebaum, who competed in the 2022 National College Championship. He had been invited to the Second Chance Tournament but was unable to attend. However, the producers and fans liked him so much that he was given a spot in the Champions Wildcard Tournament, despite never winning a previous game.

What are they playing for?

The Wildcard Tournament provides the chance for previous contestants to prove themselves and earn a little more money along the way. Since many of the champions are Jeopardy superfans, the thrill of competing may be reward enough.

However, winning the game is always the objective. The four champions who win their respective tracks will each receive $100,000, as well as earning their spot in the upcoming Tournament of Champions.

Note: The TOC was tentatively scheduled for December 19, 2023, but there have been rumors that it will be pushed back to accommodate other postseason specials featuring contestants from season 39.

How much money do competitors earn?

While Jeopardy recently increased the second and third place prize amounts for regular episodes, the earnings for tournaments are usually a little different. This tournament continues that trend, giving the returning contestants set earnings dependent on how far they progress in the competition.

All contestants in the Champions Wildcard Tournament are guaranteed a minimum of $5,000 for competing, with the 72 contestants who are eliminated in the quarterfinals receiving that amount. Those who finish their run in the semifinals will receive $10,000 each.

Finally, the three contestants who advance to the finals in each track will be eligible for:

  • 3rd place: $25,000
  • 2nd place: $50,000
  • 1st place: $100,000

The score of the contestants does not factor into the actual payouts, only determining where each player lands in the overall rankings.

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