And we thought Arthur Chu was good.
Chu's 11-win streak earlier this year has already been overshadowed by Julia Collins, a player who's now won 20 consecutive games -- second only to Ken Jennings -- and whose style returns the game to its fundamentals. Collins, a business consultant from suburban Chicago, in most cases has accumulated such a lead by Final Jeopardy that she's mathematically impossible to defeat. At this point, tuning into "Jeopardy!" is rather like watching the Harlem Globetrotters, and every player not named Julia Collins is the Washington Generals.
There's something compelling in Collins's sheer mastery, but it's about time we made "Jeopardy!" competitive again. The five-game cap should be reintroduced to the game.
"Jeopardy!" has many strengths, but its ability to let us get to know personalities isn't really one of them. Unlike, say, "Survivor," won or lost on the basis of personal interactions, "Jeopardy!" in almost all cases measures straightforward skills -- reaction time when buzzing in, broad-based knowledge, strategic wagering.
And so it is that, twenty wins into her reign, Julia Collins has given the "Jeopardy!" audience little to grab onto but her sheer mastery. "I have no questions for her. I don't know what to talk about in the conversation segment," host Alex Trebek joked in his opening remarks during Collins's most recent appearance. (Trebek, when it came time, asked Collins what she wanted to talk about. She replied "Oh, boy," and then Trebek said he'd recently learned that Collins's high school mascot had been the snail. Pulse-pounding stuff!)
Like Ken Jennings before her, Collins is just dominating in a manner at once remarkable and banal. There's nothing to say about it -- she's just the best one out there. And like Jennings's, her ongoing success seems to build upon itself. Collins has had 20 days of practice using the "Jeopardy!" buzzers, an incumbency advantage that, if it's not insurmountable, would take a pretty extraordinary competitor to overcome.
Collins's feat is certainly extraordinary -- though it's up for true "Jeopardy!" lovers to determine whether it's more or less impressive that she's playing the game according to its unwritten rules rather than jumping around the board and wagering erratically as Chu had. But it's reached its endpoint as interesting TV. Given that "Jeopardy!" is ill-equipped to allow us to get to know its competitors, we've learned just about everything we're going to about Collins -- that when we tune in each night, the game's likely to be an utter rout.
Re-introducing a five-game limit, which for many years had been the law of the land on "Jeopardy!," during Collins's run would be completely unfair to what she's accomplished. But bringing it back once her reign has concluded, next week or next year, would be the game-show version of the ratification of the Twenty-second Amendment after Franklin Roosevelt's presidency -- an opportunity to make sure that power doesn't get too entrenched. Collins's feat is remarkable -- but a succession of multi-week champions will sap the game of the competition that makes it a must-watch. "Wheel of Fortune" cannot be allowed to become America's most competitive game show.