March 17, 2007

Does something require a spoiler warning if it's being reported in the news?

So a friend of mine, Scott Weiss, has been on Jeopardy! this week, winning Wednesday and Thursday's shows pretty handily. He was mathematically assured a win on Wednesday, having more than twice his closest competitor's score, and on Thursday he SHOULD have been mathematically assured of a win, but the judges retroactively (and dubiously, I thought) decided one of his answers was incorrect (pronouncing the middle name "Kinnen" as "KEE-nin" instead of "kuh-NIN" -- as if anyone would know how to pronounce that name by looking at it) -- but he won anyway.

The promos for tonight's show promised something special, although Alex was being coy and not saying what it was. But it was apparently something that had never happened before in Jeopardy! history. And if you taped the show and haven't watched it yet and don't want to know what happens look I'm putting my fingers in my ears right now LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA, then surely you have already stopped reading this entry, and so I can reveal that what happened was... the end of Double Jeopardy, Scott was in first with $13,400 and the other two contestants were tied at $8,000. Everyone got Final Jeopardy correct, and both the contestants with $8,000 bet it all. Scott also got the answer right, but instead of bidding the expected $2,601 (which would have assured himself the win), he bid $2,600. Wahoo! Three-way tie!

Our first thought was "Why did he do that?" but it didn't take us very long at all to figure out, well, he must have just thought, "Hey! Wouldn't it be nice if we all won $16,000?" At a cost to himself of one dollar, he got to give two other people an extra $14,000. (I'm assuming the other guys would have both received $2,000 if they'd tied for the second-place prize.) Yay for altruism! Everybody wins! Now all of America knows what everyone who's met Scott knows: he is one of the nicest people alive.

Or you would think everyone would realize that! Apparently some people are too cynical to think that anyone would do such a thing except as a mistake. Case in point: this reporter's asinine article:

Being too careful probably cost returning champ Scott Weiss, who didn't up his wager much for the "Final Jeopardy!" round. The other contestants essentially doubled their earnings up to that point.


Also silly:

CBS Television Distribution, which syndicates the show for Sony Pictures claims a statistician they hired calculated the odds of a three-way tie on the show as one in 25 million.

One in 25 million? How do you determine the odds of something that's not random? The final scores aren't determined by flipping a coin, they're determined by bets. And today's end result may have been partly due to luck (the contestants being in scoring position for a tie, everyone knowing the correct answer), but mostly it happened because Scott made it possible for it to happen.

Posted by Francis at 12:43 AM

I'm glad you got it, Francis. I woke up this morning to so many nice emails from NPLers, friends, and family.

The "bettor's court" on the message board sentenced me to "a lifetime of Jeopardy fame/notoriety and fined [me] $1". I'll accept that. :-)

Posted by: Scott W at March 17, 2007 08:50 AM

One more thing. Ties for 2nd and 3rd are broken based on when the score was last different. Since Anders had $6000 before the last clue was revealed, he would have gotten the 3rd place prize.

Posted by: Scott W at March 17, 2007 09:02 AM

Have I said to you before that I don't understand why people bet that extra dollar? Betting so that you tie the second-place contestant both (a) gives away some lovely free money money money, and (2) gives you one contestant the next day you know you can beat. Particularly if you are a returning champ, so there's a good chance that you aren't in first going into Final by some fluke of the categories.

And, sorry Scott W., but I was rooting against you on Wednesday (rooting for the champ, who I liked), was ambivalent on Thursday (can't remember the other contestants, but I think I liked one of them), and didn't really start rooting for you until partway through Friday. Which goes to show how effective my rooting skills are.


Posted by: Vardibidian at March 17, 2007 09:02 AM

I don't really follow Jeopardy, as I find that Trebek fellow too annoying, but! This is a delightful story. Thanks for sharing it, and, yay, Scott!

Posted by: CC at March 17, 2007 09:20 AM

a) I adore Jeopardy!.
b) Scott, you continue to be fabulous and charming on the show.
c) I still can't believe some people didn't *get* that Scott was *making that happen*! These clueless articles are yet another example of the age-old question: "Do people think?"

Posted by: Lorinne at March 17, 2007 11:48 AM

Yesterday was the first time I had seen Jeopardy! in a while, and I'm glad that I was able to see that three-way tie.

Posted by: WN at March 17, 2007 01:04 PM

Something doesn't have to be random to calculate the odds of it occurring. Sports betting isn't random either. "Odds" are usually educated guesses based on factors like past performance. If you have a lot of historical data points (which jeopardy definitely does), you can make a pretty good argument. Of course, "Odds" rarely take altruism into account...

Posted by: ryan at March 17, 2007 01:25 PM

I tuned in RIGHT when the final Jeopardy category was announced to see what the hype was about, and based on seeing that two people were tied with $8000, I knew that a three way tie was ahead. What I wasn't expecting, was to see that Scott willingly made it happen. You could tell by the look on his face that he was excited about the three way tie unfolding, and the first thought that crossed my mind was "what an awesome guy!"

There is a blog called TV Squad that ran a post on Scott (which is how I found this blog), saying that everyone's first thought is probably "why didn't he bet that dollar!" which I think is sad.

I just wanted to let Scott know that what he did was upstanding, genuine, and amazing.

Posted by: Melissa at March 17, 2007 01:35 PM

At first when I saw the bet I was reminded of the college championship where the kid from Carnegie Mellown ended up with a special numerical value with a double meaning in the computer world as LEET. Then Scott had the chance and bet 2600. What a great coincidence that it lead to a tie. We all know the signifigance of 2600 (

Great to see a great winner and the continued dominance by computer guys.

Posted by: kip at March 17, 2007 03:02 PM

Scott (Squonk) is nicer than everyone thinks.

If they're taping a week's worth of episodes in one day, which is pretty common, then, being a Friday, this was the last episode of the day to be taped. That means he *also* didn't screw over two contestants who were standing around waiting for their turn to play by bringing his opponents back. That'll happen on the next tape day, when the contestant coordinators can plan for it.

Coincidence that it's the right day's episode, yes, but bigger coincidence of having both your opponents tied with 51-99% of what you have, right?

Posted by: Dart at March 17, 2007 03:48 PM

Wow, good move, Scott! I didn't even think of that - that it made no monetary difference to him if the others won, too. I think that's the sad thing - too often we (Americans? people in general?) are so focused on being the sole winner that we won't work together. Like that season of the Apprentice where the annoying guy with too many degrees could have allowed the second place winner to get a job with the Trump organization, too, but didn't want that out of pride ("there's only one apprentice").

Posted by: Jeff at March 17, 2007 04:09 PM

I bet 2600 on my first appearance as a wink to my fellow hackers, but it turned out to be a good bet. The other players had 6500, I had 4000, and I figured was going to lose, but they both got it wrong. I was shocked to win.

March 11, 1998 in case you want to look it up.

Posted by: BobCat at March 17, 2007 06:34 PM

Fantastic. What a guy.

His three-way tie is running up the charts at YouTube.

Posted by: jason at March 18, 2007 10:34 AM

Kip said:

"At first when I saw the bet I was reminded of the college championship where the kid from Carnegie Mellon..."

Scott Weiss also graduated from Carnegie Mellon.
Through one of the student organizations, we ran a Jeopardyy! tournament together.

Posted by: EllioTT at March 18, 2007 01:35 PM

Many people think that in order to win, other people have to lose. I worked at a very large company for a number of years where this is almost the entire work ethic. Everybody wants to win, so they spend a lot of energy making sure other people lose -- rather than just trying to make sure they themselves win.

Scott absolutely did what it took to guarantee his win -- if he got the question right, he would win. He also saw the opportunity to help two other people also win, at no loss to himself (plus, he made history). That's what I call a win-win-win situation. Bravo!

Posted by: R at March 18, 2007 02:10 PM

I've collected some links about this (with my comments) on Blue Dot:

Posted by: Roy Leban at March 18, 2007 02:53 PM

His strategy may have been to set up a situation where he will know who his next day's opponents will be. Since he was a much stronger player than the other two this will help prevent him having a player stronger than him on the next outing. I think this may be smart move on his part!

Posted by: keithdbf at March 19, 2007 11:34 AM

Keith: Yes, that crossed my mind as a potential benefit, although I don't think it was part of his decision process (which was pretty spur-of-the-moment, it sounded like). Actually, the guy in the middle seemed like a potentially dangerous opponent, with his willingness to go all-out on any Daily Double (which could be good or bad for his opponents, depending).

Posted by: Francis at March 19, 2007 11:52 AM

Now, if only the players continue to cooperate, they could have an unending stream of income. The strategy is clear, cooperate to achieve 3-way-ties each time, everyone gets the winnings, and everyone gets to come back again.

Getting a 3-way-tie is simple if the players cooperate. The two players with the higher winnings entering final jeopardy need only wager and lose the funds as necessary to match the player with the least amount of money entering final jeopardy. (It would make sense to try to spread the money across the players as evenly as possible during regular play.)

For those of you who cringe at that idea, there is also a more sporting alternative. The top player can always try to implement the Weiss-strategy to increase the chances of a two- or three-way tie. Here, the cost is only $1. And, if the other players cooperate in this strategy in future rounds, it greatly increases one's chances of being a winner and getting to play again.

So, let's hope at minimum that when Weiss isn't in the power position, the player in that position will be good enough and smart enough to use the Weiss strategy, and that the Jeopardy folks will be curious enough to see what happens if players are allowed to strategize in this way.

Brilliant example of the power of cooperation.

Posted by: RMK at March 19, 2007 12:11 PM

I don't watch the show that much lately but used to watch it pretty regularly in the late 80s and then the strategy of betting an amount where you could be tied rather than that +$1 avoiding the tie seemed MUCH more common to me than it is now. I gather that there were not more ties (2way of course) in the past on average than now but it sure seemed that way.

And congratulations Squonk!

Posted by: Aaron at March 19, 2007 12:57 PM

Thank you Scott Weiss. Your selflessness and premeditation were beautiful. Well done.

Posted by: droyer at March 19, 2007 06:26 PM

Wonderful thing you did Scott... I wish the world had more people like you.

RMK... it wouldn't happen, that's just silly. KJ boosted the ratings because people wanted to be watching when he finally lost. Who in their right mind would tune in to see the same 3 people tie day after day? It isn't a financial loophole that could continually be exploited, it is a game show. If it turns out that the leaders start turning to the "Weiss Strategy" then a new rule will simply be implimented to close the loophole.

Posted by: Joshua Fink at March 19, 2007 07:07 PM

This is upsetting to me because I'm in the contestant pool right now and time is running out for me to get on the show. Scott has wasted two slots that I might have occupied. Thanks!

Posted by: a random John at March 19, 2007 08:32 PM

Sorry to hear it, but I just don't have it in me to get worked up every time there's a tie on "Jeopardy!"

Posted by: Francis at March 19, 2007 08:43 PM

Altruism or is it really? In three-way tie you get the same guys you know you can beat. Think about that.

Posted by: fergie at March 19, 2007 10:40 PM

Scott is indeed one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet, but I wouldn't call his move altruistic exactly-- it was a highly selfish maneuver designed to bring him fame and glory. And well-deserved, too. :-)

Posted by: Rubrick at March 20, 2007 04:00 PM

I've watched Jeopardy for years and I have often thought "why does the leader go that extra dollar" ? It costs him nothing to give a chance for a tie to another player. Saw the leader do that some years ago, the other contestant could have tied and walked off with a bundle. She held back $1.00 instead of betting it all. it cost her about $20,000.00

Posted by: Ken Smith at March 24, 2007 06:13 PM

Anyone who says that Scott should have bet $2401 clearly doesn't understand the game. If you're going to bet more than $2400, the right bet isn't $2401, it's $5399 or $5400. You don't want to bet more than that, because then if you and your opponents both get the answer wrong, you risk losing if an opponent bet $0. But assuming you judge from the category that you have a better than 50% chance of answering the question (questioning the answer?) correctly, as is usually true, then it's better to win $18,800 than $16,000.

There's one thing that might be a disadvantage to tying instead of winning, but I don't know the relevant detail of the Jeopardy! rules. You need to win 5 times in a row to return for the Tournament of Champions. Is four wins and a tie good enough? If not, that (and the extra $2800 he could have had be betting bigger) is the real sacrifice Scott made to make Jeopardy history.

Posted by: Andy at March 26, 2007 12:11 AM

I went to high school with scott and saw the last five minutes of the show. What a great way to be reminded of someone you once knew! I haven't spoken to him in 20 years, but if you had told me in high school he would do this, I would not have been a bit surprised.

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