David Madden ’03 and Larissa Kelly ’02 are two of the winningest Jeopardy! players of all time. The next two nights, they can be seen competing together for a $1 million prize in the final round of the Jeopardy! All-Star Games, where the winningest and most popular players in Jeopardy! history join forces.
Madden is a 19-time Jeopardy! champion, with the third longest winning streak in the show’s history. Kelley is in the top 10 in regular season wins in show history and was the first woman to win more than five games.
In the Jeopardy! All-Star Games, these alumni make up two-thirds of Team Brad. The team is led by captain Brad Rutter, who has won over $4.3 million playing Jeopardy!, the most of any game show contestant in history. Rutter’s father, Gregory Rutter ’72, is also a University alumnus.
Pam Mueller GS ’15, who received a PhD in Social Psychology from the University, will also be competing in the Finals as a member of Team Colby.
In 2000, as a Loyola University undergraduate student, Mueller won the Jeopardy! College Championship, coming away with $50,000 and a 2001 Volvo S60.
After losing to Team Brad in Match One of the All-Star Games, Mueller earned $4,600 in the Wild Card Match against Team Buzzy and Team Austin, helping her team advance to the Finals.
In interviews with The Daily Princetonian, both Madden and Kelly spoke to their love for trivia.
“I’ve been watching Jeopardy! since I was a little kid, but I really got hooked by playing on my high school’s Quiz Bowl Team at Ridgewood High School in Ridgewood, New Jersey, back in the 90s,” Madden said.
Kelly and her sister started participating in the National Geography Bee in elementary school, pushed toward the topic by their father, a history and geography teacher. Later she participated in a high school science bowl.
At the University, however, she participated in Quiz Bowl, where she met future Jeopardy! teammate Madden and her future husband Jeff Hoppes ’02.
“I’ve known David since he was eighteen years old. He’s a good friend of my husband Jeff, and they’re both bird-watchers, and so they go on bird watching trips together,” Kelly explained.
Despite this long love for trivia, it was only on a 2004 bird-watching trip that Madden auditioned for Jeopardy!.
“It was only after I had already booked the tickets out there that I realized, ‘Hey, we’re not going to be too far from L.A. Maybe we could try out for Jeopardy!,’” Madden said.
Both Madden and Hoppes passed the tryout. As Madden put it, Hoppes in his first appearance “had the misfortune to go on against Ken Jennings,” who won 74 games in a row. Madden, on the other hand, had a successful first appearance and went on to win 19 games in a row.
“Everybody who goes on the show wants to win just once, and then sort of the rest is gravy, and I was about as nervous as I’ve ever been in my life when I first appeared.” he said. “But having got the first win under my belt, after that I was able to, if not completely relax, to enjoy the whole experience a lot more and play better as a lot of the pressure I had set for myself was off at that point.”
After seeing two of her Quiz Bowl teammates on the show, Kelly took an online test in 2007, alongside her sister. When her sister received an audition first, Kelly assumed the show was not interested in having her on. Later though, while conducting dissertation research in Mexico, she got an email offering her an audition and flew back to the U.S. to try out.
Kelly’s sister Arianna was on the show twice, having been brought back a second time after a few disputed judging calls.
Kelly, however, went on to win her first six games, becoming the first woman in the show’s history to win five games consecutively.
Trivia is deeply ingrained into the daily lives of both Madden and Kelley.
Kelley and her husband both work for National Academic Quiz Tournaments (NAQT), an organization that produces Quiz Bowl questions for middle school, high school, and collegiate tournaments.
Madden and his wife run an organization called International Academic Competitions, which organizes over a dozen history, geography, science, and all-subject competitions across the globe.
In November 2017, the show began informing Madden and Kelly of a “big secret project” that would be coming up.
“We had to sign confidentiality agreements before they would even, you know, tell us what they were planning to do,” Kelly explained. “It was actually really nice because we had basically a year-and-a-quarter or so between when we knew we’d be coming back for a tournament and when they actually taped, so that was really cool to have the opportunity to spend that much time studying and to kind of get back in gear for the show.”
In September, Jeopardy! brought the 18 All-Star Game contestants out to Los Angeles for a draft and designated six players to be team captains. Rutter chose Larissa and Madden with the sixth and seventh pick respectively.
On Rutter as a captain, Madden explained that Rutter “conducts himself with a sense of total confidence.”
“That sense of confidence definitely helped Larissa and me keep our focus and enjoy the whole experience,” Madden said.
Rutter and Madden first met in 2006, at an academic quiz tournament at which they were both working. Kelly had not met Rutter until the All-Star Games, though she had known of Rutter for quite some time.
“He and Jeff were on the same Quiz Bowl team back in their high school in Pennsylvania, so he’s someone that I’ve, you know, been aware of for a long time, even though we hadn't met prior to this,” she said.
“It was cool to play on a team with people that there was so much, sort of, history with. I think it really helped us with the team because we kind of knew what each other’s strengths were and trusted in each other’s strengths,” she continued.
In Match One against Teams Buzzy and Colby, this confidence payed off during an African Geography-related Final Jeopardy!
“I’ve been obsessed with maps and geography for over 30 years, and when I saw that category come up I knew that I’d be able to make a big wager and hopefully help out our team,” Madden noted. “That was off of a $20,000 wager, which is more than I had ever wagered on a Final Jeopardy! before.”
Going into Match One, though she noted that Rutter was very confident, “and justifiably so,” Kelly knew that the other teams would be tough to beat.
“All the teams in this tournament are so, so good. Everybody knows most of the answers to the questions, everybody is so fast on the buzzer, and so a lot of it comes down these very, very random variations in buzzer timing,” she said.
Madden and Kelly earned $23,800 and $25,600 respectively in their first two-game match of the tournament, and Team Brad advanced to the finals.
Though unable to divulge any major details involving the finals, Madden and Kelly agreed that the match will be entertaining.
“It’s gonna be a lot of fun to watch. There’s a lot of great gameplay, and, with the players who are competing, it lives up to the hype,” Madden said. “I just hope everybody at Princeton can tune in and cheer on two Old Nassau alums.”
Madden, Kelly, and Rutter will take on Team Ken and Team Colby in a two-part final match airing on ABC on Monday and Tuesday night at 7 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.