Jeopardy! Champion Tom Nichols Has Something To Say About The Show's Future

Other game shows have come and gone over the decades — anyone remember "The Magnificent Marble Machine" or "Weakest Link" airing? — but "Jeopardy!" is one of the few quiz programs that have literally endured for generations. Void of gimmicks, costumes, oversized props, or complicated rules, the show's concept is simple: Players try to recall the most facts about the 18th century, famous landmarks, words beginning with three consonants, and other trivia topics — in the form of a question, of course. But one former champ is pointing out that an important rule change has altered "Jeopardy!" for the worse.

Tom Nichols, who made it to two "Jeopardy!" tournaments, recently wrote an essay for The Atlantic that accuses the game of forgetting its roots. It once was "a kind of celebration of the smarts of the average American," he said, but now its simplicity has been compromised by players who are out "to beat the game itself" by studying archived episode questions and mastering the all-important buzzer. 

Nichols also credited the unlimited-win rule with hurting the game. For decades, "Jeopardy!" had a five-game limit for champions; after the fifth win, players had to step down (but were then eligible for the championship tournaments). Then in 2003, the game cutoff for players was eliminated, paving the way for people like Ken Jennings, James Holzhauer, and current champion Amy Schneider to keep winning for weeks and even months. As of January 21, Schneider had won 37 games and won more than $1.2 million, per the San Francisco Chronicle. So — with that in mind — what does Nichols have to say about the future of the show?

Have the gameshow's rule changes ruined the competition?

When it comes to "Jeopardy!" success, buzzer timing is everything. Ring in before the signal, and you're locked out for a fraction of a second; ring in too late, and the other players have a chance to answer the clue. The more you play, the more comfortable you get with the buzzer rhythm. Champions like Ken Jennings and Amy Schneider have an unfair advantage over new players, Tom Nichols argued in his essay, because they've already conquered their first-day jitters and have an expert control of the buzzer. After a few wins, this can make a champ almost unbeatable. "[A] a few players over time crush the daylights out of the sacrificial lambs who have no real chance of beating the reigning champ without either a dash of luck or an unforced error," Nichols wrote.

The solution? Bring back the five-game cap, said the former champion. This would keep any one person from dominating the game and bring "Jeopardy!" back to its intended purpose: being a "spirited, and limited, competition among ordinary Americans." If it's not possible to reinstate the win limit, Nichols believes it's time to retire the game for good. 

Nichols' Twitter followers are divided over his opinion. Some are squarely in his corner with one agreeing, "In other news, water is wet." Others, though, say the game is fine just the way it is. "Former Jeopardy champ jealous he didn't win more than five games," scoffed a writer. "That should be the headline." Another asked, "Should we also limit how many games pro sports teams can win?"