Former University Quiz Bowl teammates David Madden ’03 and Larissa Kelly ’02, two of the winningest Jeopardy! players of all time, came away with a $1 million prize, defeating Team Colby and Team Ken in the final round of the Jeopardy! All-Star Games, which aired on ABC Monday and Tuesday night.
Madden and Kelly’s team earned a total of $70,000 in the game over the two nights. After building up a slight lead in Game One on Monday night, their team did not look back, dominating the second game and securing the $1 million grand prize.
After two semifinal matches and one Wild Card Match, three teams entered the Finals. Madden and Kelly played on Team Brad, led by captain Brad Rutter, who had won $4.3 million on the show prior to this tournament, the most money of any game show contestant in history, and whose father, Gregory Rutter ’72, is a University alumnus.
They competed against Team Ken, led by Ken Jennings, a 74-time Jeopardy! champion with the longest winning streak in show history, and Team Colby, led by 2012 Teacher Tournament winner and 2013 Tournament of Champions winner Colby Burnett. Team Ken finished in second place, splitting a $300,000 prize, and Team Colby finished in third place, splitting $100,000.
Team Colby member and 2000 College Championship winner Pam Mueller GS ’15 completed a Ph.D. in social psychology at the University in 2015.
After losing to Team Brad in Match One of the All-Star Games, Mueller earned $4,600 in a two-game Wild Card Match against Team Buzzy and Team Austin, helping her team advance into the Finals.
Mueller noted that, having already met almost everyone in the All-Star games before, she loved spending time with her teammates and competitors.
“The first time I was on Jeopardy! was in 2000, so this has been literally half my life, so it’s kind of crazy to be a part of this community,” she said. “If they have an Alex Trebek retirement tournament, I am so there.”
The Finals consisted of two games, airing on consecutive nights. One member of each team competed in each round.
In Game One, Jennings, Rutter, and Mueller competed on their teams’ behalves in the Single Jeopardy! round.
Mueller had a rough start, missing the first clue of the round, worth $600, about celebrity Catherine Keener, immediately dipping into the negatives. But she recovered by the end of the round, correctly answering four clues to bring Team Colby’s score up to $1,600.
However, Game One quickly became a two-team competition. At the end of the round, Team Ken held a slight lead over Team Brad, with Jennings earning $8,000 and Rutter $7,200.
“I’ve known Brad since my Tournament of Champions in 2001, and I met Ken at the Ultimate Tournament in 2005, so I know them decently well,” Mueller noted. “I wasn’t intimidated by their personalities or anything.”
Mueller explained that, though she knew many of the correct responses, she had trouble buzzing into questions before Jennings and Rutter.
“I did think, going in, if their timing is faster than mine, I should be able to adjust and figure out that sweet spot to get in ahead of it, but that was harder than it appeared,” she said. “If you watch, you can see me buzzing in and just not getting anywhere with that.”
In Double Jeopardy!, Kelly dominated the round early on. After correctly answering the first clue of the round, Kelly stumbled upon a Daily Double in the Computer Science category. Going into the game, Kelly had planned on going all-in on a Daily Double if given the chance. However, she only chose to bet $4,000 of Team Brad’s $8,800.
“If I had to choose a category to find a Daily Double in, it would definitely not have been that one. I hadn’t seen anything else in the category at that point, and so I didn’t know how hard the clues were going to be or what kind of approach they were going to take, so I did not feel comfortable enough to wager everything on that,” she said with a laugh. “Especially when Colby was standing next to me saying, ‘Do it.’”
Kelly went on to respond correctly on six of the first seven clues and 13 of the total 30 clues in the Double Jeopardy! round, earning $15,600.
“I was really, really happy that things were going my way with the buzzer,” Kelly explained. “I know Matt in particular is very strong on Broadway clues, and so I was glad that, in the buzzer races to get some of those, I was able to win some of those races.”
By the end of the round, however, Team Ken’s Matt Jackson, the fourth-highest earning player in show history, made a comeback, earning $17,000 in the round.
Team Colby ended the round with $4,000 after Burnett earned $2,400, Team Brad stayed in second place with $22,800, and Team Ken maintained the lead with $25,000 going into Final Jeopardy!.
Madden competed in Final Jeopardy! alongside 2012 College Championship winner Monica Thieu from Team Ken and 2017 Tournament of Champions runner-up Alan Lin from Team Colby. The Final Jeopardy! category was “Ancient Writings,” the clue reading, “Its principles still used today, this treatise has chapters called ‘Weak Points & Strong’ & ‘Tactical Dispositions.’”
All three Final Jeopardy! participants came up with the correct response, “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu. Lin wagered the entirety of his team’s prior earnings, doubling Team Colby’s score to $8,000. Thieu wagered $7,500, bringing Team Ken’s score up to $32,500.
Madden wagered $13,200 of Team Brad’s prior earnings on category, the largest wager of the night, bringing Team Brad’s score up to $36,000 and securing a $3,500 lead over Team Ken going into the second match.
Madden’s $13,200 wager in the Finals and his $20,000 “African Geography” wager in Match One were the two highest correctly answered wagers by any contestant throughout the tournament. In Match One, confident in his geographical knowledge, Madden was planning to wager around $15,000, but Kelly talked him into going bigger.
“She talked me up to a higher wager, and I’m very glad she did because it was definitely the right tactical move,” Madden explained.
In the Finals, Madden was originally planning to wager somewhere between $10,000 and $11,000, but Kelly again convinced him to go bigger on the “Ancient Writings” clue.
“History is my other love, and she talked me up on that one as well, so I give her a tremendous amount of credit for guiding me into a higher wager, which certainly worked out well for our team,” Madden said.
After getting on the board with a $600 answer in the “Domain” category, Madden stumbled upon a Daily Double on the fifth pick of the Single Jeopardy! round in Game Two. Wagering the maximum possible $1,000, he came up with the correct response in the “Muses” category, knowing that Thalia, the muse of bucolic poetry, carries a Shepherd’s staff, and took the lead.
Madden went on to correctly answer 10 clues during the round, putting Team Brad in a great position moving into Double Jeopardy!. Team Brad finished the round with $7,400, a decent lead over Team Colby with $4,000 and Team Ken with $3,800.
Immediately after, Rutter, Jennings, and Mueller faced off in Double Jeopardy!.
Mueller came up with four correct responses during the round, earning $5,600 for Team Colby.
Rutter, however, dominated Double Jeopardy!, answering both of the round’s Daily Doubles. On the first Daily Double, in the “To the Lighthouse” category, his correct response earned Team Brad $5,000, extending his lead. Two clues later, a Daily Double in the “Colonial” category earned Rutter $10,000, increasing Team Brad’s score to $28,000 and extending his lead over Mueller to $12,000.
“It was just awesome to see the Daily Doubles fall to Brad. When the two clues came up, I knew both times he had those. I play in an online trivia league with Brad, and he’s a phenomenal history and geography player, and when I saw what those clues were I knew he knew them,” Madden said. “And then it was just a matter of those last 10 clues or so, coming down the home stretch.”
Altogether, Rutter came up with 12 correct responses by the end of Double Jeopardy!. At this point in the game, Team Brad’s $21,300 two-day lead over Team Ken was insurmountable, and Rutter had clinched the victory for Team Brad.
“As the last clue or so was being played, I just turned to Larissa and said, ‘we’ve got this in a runaway,’ and I couldn’t believe it,” Madden said.
Rutter explained his desire to have the Finals locked up going into Final Jeopardy! at the start of the tournament.
“I think Larissa and I thought to ourselves, ‘Yeah, that’d be great, but what are the odds of that?’ Madden explained. “Brad said it with such a supreme sense of self-confidence, and he made it happen.”
The Final Jeopardy category was “Constitutional Amendment Math,” and the clue read, “Total of the numbers of the amendments banning state-sponsored official religion, ending slavery & repealing prohibition.” All three contestants — Kelly, Burnett, and Jackson — came up with the correct answer of “35,” but Kelly wagered $0 and clinched the victory.
“The math was obvious to everybody,” Kelly noted.
Team Colby was awarded third place, with a two-night score of $24,601, and each member walked away with a third of a $100,000 prize. Mueller does not have any specific plans for using her winnings.
“It doesn’t do you enough to quit my job or do anything like that,” she said. “I think my Jeopardy! winnings from past things have sort of enabled me to live a slightly nicer life than I would otherwise, so I think it’ll just continue to help me to that.”
Each member of Team Ken, who came in second place with a two-night total of $48,700, walked away with their third of a $300,000 prize. Rutter, Madden, and Kelly, with a two-night score of $70,000, were each awarded a third of the $1 million grand prize.
On her portion of the grand prize, Kelly said, laughing, that “mostly we are going to be very boring and invest it and put it in retirement savings.”
Kelly noted, however, that she may use some of the winnings on various home repair projects she has been putting off. Also, she noted that her sister and nephew live in England, and she may use some of the winnings to visit them more often.
Madden plans to put most of his winnings into developing and expanding International Academic Competitions, an organization he and his wife run that puts together over a dozen history, geography, science, and all-subject competitions worldwide.
Additionally, he said, “My wife and I have lived full-time on the road for over three years now, and I think we’ll take a small portion of our winnings and get an apartment in Burlington, Vt., this summer. That’s where we’re looking to finally settle down, after another probably four or five months living full-time on the road.”
Madden will be coming to the University on May 2 as part of the “Last Lectures” series, organized by the Senior Class Commencement Committee. This Jeopardy! event will include Madden and several other former Jeopardy! contestants, including graduate alumnus Gilbert Collins GS ’99, former University Assistant Director of Admission Tova Meyer, and Princeton High School teacher Kian Barry.
“Just very happy to do it again for Old Nassau,” Madden said on his All-Star Games win. “One of the members of Team Ken [Jackson] had gone to Yale, so that makes the victory that much sweeter.”