Portland's Courtney Shah excited for 'Jeopardy!' champs tourney
Courtney Shah's experience on the TV game show "Jeopardy!" has been exciting and rewarding to the tune of more than $118,000 in winnings and the opportunity to play in the Tournament of Champions.
But, it hasn't been easy. She spent hours watching old "Jeopardy!" games with super champion Ken Jennings — now the host of the show and Tournament of Champions — and studying as much "human information" as possible, preparing about how to understand clues in questions and being quick on the buzzer.
And, then once on the show, it's an intense time. "Jeopardy!" films five shows in one day, she said, and you have to change clothes for each show, grab a meal at some point and be on your game, so to speak.
"It's every bit as intense as you can think it can be," she said. "You have to be knowledgeable and fast but also focused. People don't understand how focused you have to be. Don't get in your own head about a mistake made or thinking 'I get another win and I get into the Tournament of Champions.'
"It goes so fast. And it's exhausting. It's a marathon."
Well, Shah, who's a Northwest Portland resident, a history instructor at Lower Columbia Community College in Longview, Washington, and a Sunset High School graduate, had a long experience on "Jeopardy!" in summer 2021. She won seven games, qualifying for the Tournament of Champions, which starts Monday, Oct. 31 on KATU (2); shows start at 7 p.m. weeknights.
Shah competes on Thursday, Nov. 3. John Focht of El Paso, Texas, a four-game winner, and a Second Chance Competition winner will be her opponents.
Seven wins was a big deal, earning her more than $118,000, but it's a small streak compared to five super champions. In one of the best "Jeopardy!" seasons ever, Amy Schneider had 40 consecutive wins, Matt Amodio 38 and Mattea Roach 23, and Ryan Long (16) and Jonathan Fisher (11) had great runs as well.
Shah and Brian Chang were next with seven wins.
And, now, the showdown has finally arrived. The five super champions, along with other champions who won at least four games and champions of the National College Championship, Professors Tournament and Second Chance Competition (two players) make up the 21 contestants in the Tournament of Champions.
There will be a best-of-seven finals series; the first champion to win three games claims the $250,000 grand prize. Schneider, Amodio and Roach have earned first-round byes.
Quarterfinals are held Oct. 31-Nov. 7, and there'll be an exhibition game Nov. 8 (election night) with Schneider, Amodio and Roach. Semifinals are Nov. 9-11 — Schneider plays on Nov. 9, Amodio on Nov. 10 and Roach on Nov. 11.
Like reality TV, games shows are taped, and results already determined — the Tournament of Champions was filmed in September in Los Angeles. But, in TV world, it's TOC time, and Shah and others are enjoying it. She, too, followed the exploits of Schneider, Amodio and Roach.
"This crowd, there's never been anything like it, I gotta say," said Shah, 48. "I was really excited to meet everybody. I watch the show, I'm a fan, and watching on TV, 'Oh my gosh I'm going to watch this person, that's great. I might have to play against these people, that's not so great.'"
She added that "it's a collegial group. We liked each other and got to know each other. We'd go out to dinner, hang out — you find your people, and the nerds were hanging out together (herself included). We're not all cut from the same cloth, which is wonderful."
Shah brought her daughter to the TOC filming.
"It's a good family show, I watched it with my (two) kids, I watched with parents. It spans the generations," she added.
Indeed, Shah remembers not being religious about watching "Jeopardy!", after Alex Trebek took over, but she and family watched it and "we'd yell at the TV when we knew the answers, which is what everybody does."
A Portland native and 1992 Sunset High School graduate, Shah remembers being in college and coming across a guy in a student center preparing to be on "Jeopardy!," practicing with an electronic pencil and clicking on it. She thought, "Wow, this is what actual people do, this is within the realm of possibility."
Then, three years ago, she took the "Jeopardy!" Anytime Test in Seattle and, after many months of waiting, received the call to be on the show.
And, she excelled, particularly in history and geography and other such categories. Her host was guest host Sanjay Gupta, a neurologist and CNN contributor. She was impressed with the show.
"It is a well-oiled machine — crew, production, contestant coordinators. They have it down to a science," Shah said. "The COVID precautions, they were excellent with all that. It runs so smoothly."
Now it's Tournament of Champions time. We'll see whether Shah wins and advances to play any of the super champions.
"Amy (Schneider) has no weaknesses," she said. "I kind of thought, 'If I had to go up against somebody like Mattea, generational knowledge might be handy. Looking at pop culture with Matt, it's not his strength — so pick pop culture categories. I was trying to sort of do my prep work on Amy, and I couldn't find a weakness. My big strategy going into it with Amy was don't get matched against her. And, you have to have luck."
There are strategies galore — including hunting for the Daily Doubles, and picking the right categories to score well, reading the clues and being quick on the buzzer.
"It's easier with the Tournament of Champions, because you've seen everybody play," she said. "Players against me know that I'm a history teacher, and I like history and geography (and need help with science and opera, for example). You don't have control about what categories come up. You have control of the board, but that's hard to do against stiff competition.
"It's interesting to see how people shape their game, from what they see and what will be effective. I'm not a big risk-taker, but I had to get used to that. Going against big bettors, you better get used to that."
The end has come eventually for all the contestants. Schneider lost. Amodio lost. Roach lost.
Shah's streak came to an end Wednesday, July 7, 2021 with $118,558 in winnings. In the seventh game, she answered correctly on Final Jeopardy — a question about which band with a nicknamed lead singer had No. 1 albums in the 1980s, '90s, 2000s and 2010s (U2 with Bono) — but a competitor also answered correctly, ending Shah's run.
She prepared for Tournament of Champions, and now we'll see the results.
Such as with her initial run in 2021, "it's a fine balance of study but don't drive myself bonkers, don't make myself hate the process. It's something I like to do, learn new things, and I didn't want to make myself hate it."
For more see jeopardy.com/toc2022.
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