MEDINA, Ohio — Matt Amodio has been crushing it “Jeopardy!”, winning six straight games and earning $194,800 in prize money so far. Most of his victories have been lopsided with the “Final Jeopardy!” question just a formality.
How did he get there? The 30-year-old Medina native was the valedictorian of his class at Medina High School in 2009 before going on to earn a degree in actuarial math four years later from Ohio State University. He’s now working towards a doctorate in computer science at Yale University but has been at home in Medina since the start of the pandemic.
“I’m glad to be able to watch the games with my parents because they obviously didn’t see me when we taped them because there were restrictions,” he said. “It’s really great to sit there with them. They’re very proud of me and supportive.”
As the current champion, Amodio isn’t able to share how long his run on the show lasts. But his six straight victories means he’s already qualified for the Tournament of Champions later this season. We caught up with him ahead of his seventh appearance on the game show on Thursday.
cleveland.com: How would you describe your run on the show so far? Can you believe this is happening?
Matt Amodio: It’s incredible. I went in hoping for the best, but I did not go in with necessarily super high expectations. I was just kind of floored at every step of the process and amazed that it just kept going.
Q: You’ve made it look easy, dominating the other contestants and winning these huge sums of money each night. Has it been as easy as it’s looked?
A: No. I am by nature a very stressed, very scared, self-conscious and not overly confident person. I think if I were showing on the outside what I felt on the inside, that would not make good television. So, I tried to project confidence but I’m really shaking on the inside. I’m just glad that doesn’t show too much.
Q: You’ve shown a wide range of knowledge. How do you know all this stuff?
A: I just I’m a connoisseur of knowledge. I read all the time. I regularly fall into Wikipedia holes. I don’t know how people gained knowledge prior to Wikipedia, but it’s really easy now. I just find somewhere to start and then I get linked to something else that’s interesting in that article which links me to ten other things that’s interesting in that article. It just progresses and before I know it, I have 50 tabs open on my browser and the night’s over. So I just read, read, read.
Q: Do you have a topic that’s a weakness?
A: I do not like pop culture. I’m a historian at heart and I like learning about cultures from times of yore. Now it’s long enough ago that I can start to appreciate my parents’ pop culture when they were kids, but not anything this current. So, in preparation for “Jeopardy!”, I found myself brushing up on pop music, TV, movies and more current stuff that I’m not fluent in naturally.
Q: You’ve won six games so far and nearly $200,000. What do you plan on doing with all that money?
A: My goodness, it still just doesn’t seem real to me. This is the most boring answer ever, but I’m going to save it. I’m a Ph.D. student and I’m used to spending more money than I make by a fair margin. It’s going to feel nice to have a nest egg or a rainy day fund I wouldn’t have necessarily had otherwise.
Q: What has your strategy been in tackling the board?
A: I think I have a fairly good brain for transitioning from one category to another. I can context switch very quickly and I noticed that other people might struggle with that a little bit. I thought by bouncing around the board, doing hard questions from one category and then following up with hard questions from another category, I might be able to get a little bit of an advantage. I didn’t know until I got up there whether it would also be a challenge for me. When I found that I was able to do it pretty well, I stuck with that strategy.
Q: You’ve now qualified for the Tournament of Champions. How anxious are you for that?
A: I’ve faced tremendous challengers. These scores might be somewhat lopsided in the end, but that doesn’t really give credit to how much that these people knew. But, on the other hand, when you’re in the Tournament of Champions, everybody you face is a really good “Jeopardy!” player. I’ve never been on the floor with two other people who’ve already won at least five games themselves. So, I’m scared about that and bracing myself for the possibility it might not go as well.
Q. Current guest host LeVar Burton has been a favorite among fans to succeed the late Alex Trebek. What’s he been like on set?
A: I love LeVar Burton. I was so thrilled when I found out that I was going to be on with him. I’m a little disappointed in the fan base and their pretty harsh responses on Twitter. I don’t think they appreciate how difficult of a job it is. He was just so nice and worked hard at it. You could see how much he was interested in and flattered by the opportunity. I know if given a full month, a full year or several years, he would do awesome. He’s incredible.
“Jeopardy!” airs weeknights at 7:30 p.m.