Jeopardy contestant Sandie Baker is currently on a six episode winning streak, having, thus far, racked up $140,200 in winnings. Past big winner Arthur Chu (the third most successful Jeopardy contestant ever) is starting to get scared, but her ability to terrify Chu and retain countless trivia facts are only part of what makes Sandie special — she's also one of a very small group of women to have won more than 5 games of Jeopardy in a row.
Eric Levenson at The Atlantic Wire writes:
Baker's six-day run marks her as one of the very few women who have won more than five games in a row in the show's history. The game show overturned its five-day appearance limit in 2003, but it still took five more years for the first woman — Larissa Kelly in 2008 — to pass that benchmark. Kelly's six-game streak has only been surpassed by Stephanie Jass's seven straight in 2012.
And that's the entire list of women who have made it to six consecutive wins. In ten years, only three women have done so, compared to about 20 men.
But why so few female winners? A recent Slate piece by Ben Blatt and Amanda Hess explored the issue after Jeopardy host Alex Trebek appeared on Fox News and discussed the disparity between male and female winners, saying:
"Women contestants, when it comes to a Daily Double, seem to want to wager [less] because they figure, 'Oh, this is the household money, this is the grocery money, the rent money. Guys say, 'Wait a minute, I'm playing with the house money. I'm not taking any money home unless I win the game, so I can go whole hog on this wager.' Women are more cautious in that regard...That's changing. We've attracted more women to the show…and they're getting a little more adventurous."
Hess and Blatt's analysis found that it was a little more complicated than that:
We found 10,608 Daily Double bets made between 1984 and 2014 that could be identified as being from a man or woman. In that time period, the average male Daily Double bet was $1,963, and the average female Daily Double bet was $1,675. But men, on average, had accumulated more money before landing on the Daily Double than women had. If you look at Daily Double bets as a percentage of the player's pot, the gap between male and female wagers is slim: Men bet an average of 42.97 percent of their current earnings on Daily Doubles, while women bet an average of 41.15 percent of their earnings.
Like Trebek said, women do tend to wager slightly less than their male counterparts, however, information from a 1998 study shows that the trivia on Jeopardy might be slightly skewed towards what they call "masculine topics:"
"Men selected and correctly answered a disproportional number of questions from masculine topic categories, which appeared more often during the first round of play. Women chose more feminine and neutral questions than did men, and correctly answered those questions at a proportional rate."
Proportional as their answers may be, women win less often at Jeopardy than men do. Making up 39.9 percent of Jeopardy! contestants over the past 30 years, they've only won about 30.3 percent of games — which is what makes Baker's current winning streak so exciting. Regardless of how "masculine" or "feminine" the trivia is, she's beating the odds.
TAKE YOUR REWARD, SANDIE.
UPDATE: Unfortunately, Baker lost last night. Sorry — sometimes these articles are written a little too far in advance. Anyway, it was an excellent run!