A week before Jeopardy aired Erica Weiner-Amachi’s first appearance, the Philadelphia elementary school teacher found out it might not have been her last.
After a hard-fought contest over the summer where she’d been just one question away from victory, the show’s producers tapped Weiner-Amachi for Jeopardy’s first ever Second Chance competition, which began airing Monday on ABC.
Originally chosen as an alternate, she didn’t find out she’d actually get to compete until she arrived at the studio in Culver City, California, and discovered another contestant had to drop out.
“One of the producers pulled me aside and said, ‘Hey, Erica, need to talk to you — by the way, you’re actually gonna play today, so hope you brought enough extra clothes, and hope you’re ready to go,'” Weiner-Amachi said. “I was like, ‘Cool…wasn’t ready…but okay, here we go.'”
Jeopardy’s new Second Chance format runs for two weeks. It looks to give (you guessed it) a second chance to competitors who came within a hair of winning during regular season games, offering them a pipeline to the top contest of the year.
Weiner-Amachi, who has lived in Philly for 15 years and works for KIPP Philadelphia Schools, appears on Second Chance this Tuesday evening.
If she wins, she’ll move onto a two-parter airing Thursday and Friday. Whoever comes out on top at the end of this week — and again next week, when the format repeats — earns a spot in the show’s annual(-ish) Tournament of Champions, which begins airing Oct. 31.
The competition there will be fierce. It includes recently-minted Jeopardy legends like 40-game winner Amy Schneider, 38-game winner Matt Amodio, 23-game winner Mattea Roach, and Philly favorite Ryan Long, who won 16 games.
Yep, Philly could be home to not one, but two contestants vying for Jeopardy’s top honor.
Philadelphia has had a winner of the Tournament of Champions before. In 2007, five-time regular season champ Celeste DiNucci, then a graduate student at UPenn, took home the title, and $250,000. (Prize amounts for this year haven’t yet been announced.)
The time seems right for it to happen again. Philly teams have enjoyed a weirdly golden stretch of winning these past few weeks — why shouldn’t it also extend to trivia gurus?
“It should be enough that our sports teams are doing so well,” Weiner-Amachi demurred. “We can’t be greedy.”
A longtime fan of the show, Weiner-Amachi first appeared on Jeopardy in mid-July. It was a childhood dream come true, and the culmination of a two-year process that started when she took the show’s Anytime Test online in April 2020.
One thing she probably didn’t dream about: A few days before flying out to Los Angeles for the taping, she tore her ACL while roller skating. “That made everything a lot harder,” she said.
On set, Weiner-Amachi didn’t let it stop her. Playing against research fellow William Chou and middle school band director Emily Fiasco, a three-time returning champion who’d already won over $87,000 on the show, she led the pack at the end of the first round.
But it was in the Double Jeopardy round that she really caught fire, beating her opponents to the buzzer a dozen times and getting it right 10 of those times. By the end of the round, she had $11,600 — though her opponents were still within striking distance. And strike one of them did. In Final Jeopardy, her and Chou’s wagers left them exactly tied, launching them into one of the show’s rare sudden death moments. In the end, Chou beat her to the buzzer and answered correctly, delivering him the win.
At the Second Chance tournament, Weiner-Amachi initially felt a little bit of imposter syndrome. She gained some confidence once she played a few practice rounds and performed well.
The prospect of making it to the Tournament of Champions, however, still made her nervous.
She used a metaphor to describe the feeling: “I think I was a strong college basketball player, but I’m not winning MVP in the NBA Finals.” she said. “I’m not one of the kids playing on the playground, but I know I’m not Kobe. Amy Schneider’s Kobe. I’m like… I don’t even know who I would be.”
Whatever the outcome, Weiner-Amachi is excited for people to see her on Jeopardy again this week during Second Chance play.
She’s especially looking forward to having her kids and the children she works with at school see it, and learn from her experience.
“I got to try something hard. I got to take a risk. I got to fail at it and not win, even though I really wanted to,” Weiner-Amachi said about her first Jeopardy experience, “but I didn’t give up. And I’m really excited to share that experience with my own children again and my students.”