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Did UGA PhD candidate Seth Wilson get a lucky 13th win in a row on 'Jeopardy'?

Posted on the AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

University of Georgia PhD candidate Seth Wilson saw his "Jeopardy" streak end in a rather sudden fashion Wednesday night.

He was cruising along, building a $12,800 lead at one point late into the second round. His 13th victory in a row was in sight. In an interview, even Wilson himself said he felt confident he would be adding to his $265,000 win total in a few minutes.

He had good reason to think things would go his way. Over his 13 games, Wilson made very few mistakes, getting about 90 percent of his answers correct. And up to that point, he was answering enough questions to stay ahead of his rivals.

But then he made a mistake. (It happens.) He was at $19,000 and was positioned to hit $21,000 if he answered this clue correctly: "This name of a fictional butler is also an app to mac-simize your productivity." But Wilson said "Jeeves." The right answer: "Alfred." That error dropped him to $17,000. He still had an $8,000 lead.

With less than a minute, the 12-letter words was the final category. Margie Eulner Ott, a Bethesda, Md. consultant and ride-share driver in second place, answered the $2,000 question correctly, moving her to $11,000. At $1,600, she received a crucial Daily Double. She opted to bet $6,000 to tie. The clue: "This type of German spirit double appears in Dostoyevsky's novel "the Double." Answer: "What is a doppelganger?"

And just like that, Margie was suddenly tied with Wilson at $17,000.

Wilson nabbed two more answers correctly and finished the round at $19,000, a tenuous $2,000 lead.

Alex Trebek announced the Final Jeopardy category: "The Economy."

Unfortunately, Wilson said he didn't feel comfortable with business-related subjects. "Business and economics questions are legendarily tricky on 'Jeopardy,' " he said in the interview tonight. "A lot of big champs have missed it in the past."

So he decided to play it conservative by betting just $5. His hope was that Margie would bet just enough to beat him if he got the question wrong.

He actually knew the answer to the clue: " 'Systematically Important Financial Institution' is an official status known more informally by these 4 words." It was "Too big to fail."

Unfortunately for Wilson, Margie knew it, too. But she didn't wager $2,001 as he had hoped. Instead, she bet it all and doubled her total to finish with $34,000, far exceeding his $19,005. Wilson said he had tried this tactic in an earlier game and it worked. This time, not so much.

Wilson, a true "Jeopardy" geek, cited Andy Saunders' fan site, who has studied betting strategies and found that betting big was a smarter move - but only by a small margin. Saunders in an essay tonight didn't think Wilson going small was a blunder, just a calculation that backfired this time.

He lightheartedly compared his loss to that of the University of Georgia Bulldogs against the Tennessee Volunteers the previous Saturday where it seemed like UGA had the win but then lost at the last moment.

So Wilson goes home with about $267,000 and a shot at more when the Tournament of Champions happens later this year. His 12-game streak is the fifth longest ever since "Jeopardy" allowed endless streaks in 2003. The top four: Matt Jackson (13 wins), Dave Madden (19 wins), Julia Collins(20 wins), and the incredible Ken Jennings (74 wins).

We had talked Monday about his eating habits, that he tried to eat light to keep his head clear. So I wondered if he just gorged on something really fatty now that he was out. He said he chose Chinese and sat by himself forlornly. The moment reminded him of Ohio State's coach Urban Meyer eating pizza all alone after blowing a National Championship in 2013, a photo which he said garnered him a lot of joy at the time.

"This lunch felt like my comeuppance for laughing at him," Wilson said.

Nonetheless, he loved his time on the show. "I would not change a thing about my time on the show," he said. "I had an amazing time. It was one of the greatest things to ever happen to me. I'm looking forward to playing Tournament of Champions."

Wilson, who is now teaching in Texas as an adjunct professor while working on his dissertation, said his winning strategy was "very traditional." He accepted the critique from some "Jeopardy" experts who felt he wasn't proactive enough looking for Daily Doubles.

For now, he's feverishly prepping to compete with some of the best players of the past year.

As for how he will spend his $267,000 (which will be far less after taxes, of course), he said he will be able to pay off his student loans, take a little trip and save the rest for a rainy day next egg.

By RODNEY HO/, originally filed Wednesday, October 5, 2016

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About the Author

Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.