'Jeopardy!' Champ Matt Amodio Speaks out Amid Historic Run, Mike Richards Controversy

At Jeopardy!, the contestants are supposed to be the stars, but the past year has been full of behind-the-scenes confusion and controversies that pulled attention away from champion Matt Amodio. The 30-year-old Ph.D. student has been on a historic run, but the focus has been on the hosting controversy with former executive producer Mike Richards. In a new interview with The Washington Post Sunday, Amodio spoke out on succeeding on the show amid difficult circumstances. 

The Yale University computer science student ended the 2020-2021 Jeopardy! season with 18 consecutive wins and $574,801. Amodio is only behind Ken Jennings and James Holzhauer on the all-time winnings list for the show. The new season of Jeopardy! begins airing on Monday, so fans will get to see if Amodio can continue his streak. The episode was filmed during Richards' one day as the "permanent" Jeopardy! host before he stepped down on Aug. 20. Richards' five episodes will air this week, before the guest host, Mayim Bialik takes over. Richards remained executive producer until Sony Pictures Television fired him on Aug. 31.

"Frankly, the last thing I'm thinking about when I'm in the middle of a game is who's hosting," Amodio told the Post Sunday when asked about the situation. "I've had people say, 'Oh man, you've moved on to your fourth host, that has to be difficult.' And I would say, 'Well, you're right, but I didn't even realize that, necessarily.' 'Cause I'm trying to pull these really obscure facts out of my brain, and that takes all the mental energy I can afford at the moment."

Surprisingly, Amodio believes he has benefited from the chaos since it took attention away from his streak. Rather than constantly dealing with press interviews, he could focus on preparing for the game attention was on other Jeopardy! issues. "I'm an introverted person; I've never experienced even moderate amounts of attention, much less this much attention," he said. "I'm actually kind of surprised I've enjoyed it."

There is one controversy Amodio can't completely avoid. Fans have been frustrated with his decision to respond to every clue with "What is," even if the response should be a person. Amodio said this is part of a strategy, so his brain does not have to spend a second thinking about whether or not he should use "who" or "what." He did not think this would be a big issue with fans and found the attention his strategy received "kind of amusing." He noticed some people thought it was a sign of disrespect, which was "obviously not at all what I intended," Amodio told the Post.

Amodio has loved Jeopardy! all his life, so he understands how beloved the late Alex Trebek remains. His one "real regret" is never meeting the television legend. "Things are working so well for me on Jeopardy! and I'm so tremendously grateful for the opportunity the show has given me, but it just didn't work out, timing-wise, to meet Alex," Amodio said Sunday.