Connect with us


‘Celebrity Jeopardy!’ Winner Spills His Secret Finale Tactic



The first-ever Celebrity Jeopardy! was almost destined for joke status. After all, the Saturday Night Live version of the famous people-only edition of the game show remains indelible, becoming one of SNL’s more famous recurring sketches.

But the real, hour-long show, which wrapped its 13-episode season on Thursday, ended up distinguishing itself as a worthy entry in the hallowed Jeopardy! canon. Better yet: It was easily one this TV season’s most consistently rewarding watches.

Fellow celebrity nerd Mayim Bialik hosted this special primetime take on the show, which had a different format than a traditional half-hour Jeopardy! match. Instead of having contestants compete to rack up the most money for as many games as possible, Celebrity Jeopardy! had a more rigid structure: A bracket-style competition created unique stakes, with each round pitting three celebs against each other. Six starting rounds became three semifinals, as the contestants tried to make it to the finale and win the grand prize: $1 million for a charity of their choice.

The result was exhilarating. Who could have guessed that watching Joel Kim Booster outsmart Ray Romano was top-tier television? Who suspected that Hasan Minhaj would create controversy by being a little too excited about answering questions correctly? Why did Reggie Watts and Eddie Huang even agree to do this show? Did the producers know pitting them against each other would lead to one of 2022’s funniest episodes of television?

But nothing compared to that intense, hilarious, exciting finale, which saw three strong contenders face off: Wil Wheaton, Patton Oswalt, and Ike Barinholtz. Fans of the show knew that Wheaton was the excitable trivia nerd, who had already racked up nearly $50,000 in a single episode. Barinholtz, known for his chill, buffoonish sitcom characters, surprised by winning his first two rounds by large margins both times. And Oswalt arrived after an unforgettable semifinal game, in which he came from way behind to eke out the win, during a shocking Final Jeopardy! round against Michael Cera and Ted Lasso’s Brendan Hunt.

(Warning: The winner is spoiled below!)


But Barinholtz managed to pull off the win, earning $72,001. (Wheaton came in third with $23,000, and Oswalt lost by just $1, with $72,000.) That means that the charity Barinhotlz was playing for, the California-based mental health organization Pacific Clincs, will be awarded $1 million, while Oswalt’s and Wheaton’s causes will receive $250,000 and $100,000, respectively.

It was unpredictable until the end, with Barinholtz and Oswalt regularly swapping leader spots. But Barinholtz had a good feeling he was going to walk away with that comically large trophy—which he proudly displayed behind him during our Zoom chat.

The Daily Beast’s Obsessed spoke with Barinholtz the morning after the season finale aired. He told us how it feels to finally spill the beans, the best piece of strategic advice he received, and whether he wanted to tick Patton Oswalt off with his highly specific Final Jeopardy! bet.

Congratulations on winning! Let’s start from the final episode, because it was nerve-wracking to watch as a fan. You were breezing through each game from your first round—you were killing it. So, going into the finale, how did you feel?

Ike Barinholtz: We had a couple of months in between winning the semi-finals and going to the finals, so I had a lot of time to kind of think about it, which is terrifying. But I was feeling really good.

People ask me, “What did you do to prepare?” I always say the same thing, which is, I just watched Jeopardy!—although I did hold a little click pen [like a buzzer] and practice, so I can get into a rhythm. So I was feeling good.


When I first saw the list of [other contestants], there were a couple of names that I was like, “Oh, they’ll definitely be challenging,” and Patton was absolutely one of them. I was like, “Oh, man, if I have to play Patton, that’s going to be tough, because he is very, very, very good.”

You came in having done consistently well, while Patton had kind of been the underdog in his Celebrity Jeopardy! journey. But Wil Wheaton held the record for the highest total earnings at the end of a round of anyone in the game. Were you thinking, Okay, I have a good chance of winning this?

I had to imagine that one of the three of us knew every answer. So it really became a matter of timing and getting your buzzer in a good place. I knew they were going to make the questions a little bit harder, and that those guys don’t mess around, so I knew I had to get in there.

I linked up with [former Jeopardy! champion] Andy Wood through a friend, and both he and my brother John, who’s a huge Jeopardy! fan, were like, “You need to get more aggressive with your Daily Double.” Before, if I had $7,500, I’d go, “Let’s do $2,500.” And they said, “No, go big on those. The odds are, you’re going to know the answer. Maybe you don’t, but you have to do it.”

I remember talking backstage to Wil and Pat and saying, “We all should just go all-in on Daily Doubles,” because it also makes for a good show. So there were a couple of moments in that episode where both me and Patton had Daily Doubles and went all-in.

I’m very fun to go to Las Vegas with, let’s put it that way. I love a good bet.

Yeah, it ended up becoming a joke throughout the episode—you were the one pushing everyone to go for a “true” Daily Double, by betting everything you have on one clue.


I’m very fun to go to Las Vegas with, let’s put it that way. I love a good bet. And then throughout the game, there were a lot of lead changes. I think they said there were nine lead changes back and forth, so it was definitely a lot of pressure.

But I also knew that even if I didn’t win, Pacific Clinics, which is this amazing organization I work with, was going to get some money. It’s just a matter of how much. I just didn’t want to let them down.

I think the fun of watching Celebrity Jeopardy! was knowing that there was this ultimate grand prize attached, and one that’s so meaningful. Winning for charity made it feel more intense for me. Was that your impression too, as a player?

Yeah. I knew it was going to be one of the three of us. [In regular Jeopardy!,] maybe the person wins, and they come back the next day, and maybe they make it all the way to the Tournament of Champions, the big one. But we just had a nice build-up to it. We had a few months of letting it sit, knowing that a charitable organization was gonna get a decent chunk of change.

Mayim, toward the end, was like, “I’m very nervous right now,” and she really was, so there was definitely some fun pressure in the room.

During that in-between time, before you filmed the finale, were you watching the show?

I watched the [semifinals], because I wanted to see who I was going to be playing, and so I saw Wil win.


I knew early on Patton was going to be a problem for me, but watching … to see who was going to be the person [other than Wil] I’d end up playing with—Brendan [Hunt] or Patton—was really exciting. That semifinals game was a very great Jeopardy! game, in the sense that it was a come-from-behind upset.

It’s fun to see actors or athletes or newscasters in a different world, and on their feet a little bit. Like Michael Cera—I’m a huge fan of his as an actor, so I loved to see what he looks like on the pressure cooker.

I went to a taping of Jeopardy! once, and being in the audience was so exciting, too. What was it like having the audience watching you while you’re going through this stressful moment on-stage?

I mean, I’m a ham. I play to the crowd, so I love it. I feel like if [the audience] weren’t there, it would be much, much more nerve-racking. But if you can crack a joke or something and get a laugh, you just feel more relaxed. It added to the excitement.

To go back to the actual finale: You’ve mentioned Patton a bunch. It kind of seems like you saw him as your main competition. I want to know why you bet $22,001, so that you ended up with $72,001—$1 more than Patton’s maximum possible winnings, if you both got Final Jeopardy! right, which you did. Was it because you wanted to rub it in Patton’s face if you won over him?

It was actually the opposite. For a regular game, where it’s important how much you bank, it’s a little bit different. But [with Celebrity Jeopardy!], I always said, “I just need enough to win by a dollar.” And in my mind, if you win by a dollar, then the person who comes in second feels good, like, “I only lost by a dollar.” So I kind of knew that if I had a lead going in, I would probably need twice as much as the next-highest winner, plus one.

That [Final Jeopardy!] question came up. I did not know the answer. I kind of guessed on that one. [The correct response, about a famous Italian artist erroneously thought to be born in Florence, was “Leonardo da Vinci.”] Then once Wil answered first and got it right, I knew that Patton couldn’t bet more than what he had [$36,000]. So I just watched that all play out. It was pretty exhilarating.


You said you watched the finale with folks as it aired live yesterday. Were you able to tell them how you did ahead of time? Or when people came over before it aired, did you have to go hide your trophy?

I hid it, and I busted it out at the very end. It was incredible. Most of the texts I’ve been getting the last 16 hours have been like, “How did you keep this a secret?” I’m such a blabbermouth. But the line I gave people [when they asked] was “Look, all I can say is this. If you like Jeopardy!, it was a great game.” And I think a lot of people took that to mean I lost.

I told my immediate family, of course, and they were very excited. But I’m going to pat myself on the back a little bit. I did not run my big fat mouth nearly as much as I thought I would.

They’re just so hard, and we are just humble, beautiful, talented, gifted people, and we need easier questions.

So, I have to admit—watching Celebrity Jeopardy! at home, I thought it was so easy! I was like, “Why am I getting everything right? Isn’t Jeopardy! supposed to be hard?!”

Well, the thing is that regular Jeopardy! is so hard. I love it. Some games, I get more right than others. But there’s rounds that will go by, and I did not know one answer.

[But the producers of Celebrity Jeopardy!] very smartly understood that celebrities have a little thin coating around our brains that filters out negativity and allows us to have room to remember our lines and be beautiful, so we need easier questions. If you brought out celebrities and did the normal Jeopardy! questions, the final scores would be $300 to $100 to $100. They’re just so hard, and we are just humble, beautiful, talented, gifted people, and we need easier questions.


Final question: What is one thing you’ll take away from this experience that you’ll never forget?

The first time I was on the stage, and I heard [longtime announcer] Johnny Gilbert say, “He’s an actor from Chicago, Illinois.” It was just like, “This is crazy.” I’ve been hearing that voice for so long, and to hear him say, “He also starred on The Mindy Project and the film Blockers, please welcome—” that was just really just a crazy moment.

But I remember every moment from all three episodes. I just was like, “Don’t forget that you don’t know when you’ll be back on this stage. Don’t forget it.” What a joy. I’m so happy it’s over now, and I can talk about it.

Keep obsessing! Sign up for the Daily Beast’s Obsessed newsletter and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok.

Source: The Daily Beast


Follow us on Google News to get the latest Updates