Sandie Baker has had a stellar run so far on Jeopardy, winning six straight matches and racking up total of $140,200 in winnings. But what makes that streak so remarkable is that she is already one of the winningest women in the show's history.
Though women make up 40 percent of contestants, they have won just 30 percent of games over the last 30 years, according to a recent analysis by Slate. That male bent has been particularly noticeable at the extreme end of the winnings, as all of the top five contestants in terms of total non-tournament winnings are men, including recent trivia juggernaut Arthur Chu.
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.
Why that wide gender difference? One possible explanation comes from an analysis of 18 episodes by Salon's Deborah Sosin, which found that most of the show's trivia had a male focus. For example, the category "Authors" appeared twice in her limited sample, and the provided clues featured nine men and just one woman. So that subtle slant in the game clues may favor male contestants over the long run. For his part, host Alex Trebek cites the tendency for men to risk more than women in Daily Doubles, a small but very real trend between the two sexes.
But for Baker specifically, she will surely be content to continue dominating like she did on Wednesday, as she entered Final Jeopardy with more than twice the amount of the next contestant, solidifying a win. She did the same on Tuesday as well, and has been a consistent force in her time on the show thanks to general wits and smarts.
Consider her the anti-Arthur Chu, referring to the polarizing contestant who used some unconventional tactics and strategies to dominate Jeopardy earlier this year. (His $300,000 total is the the 3rd-most winnings ever.) Unlike Chu, Baker mostly sticks to the regular formula of Jeopardy strategy. She starts at the cheapest questions and works her way down the board. She doesn't search explicitly for the Daily Doubles, and when she does find them, she bets just modest amounts. She doesn't bet for the tie in Final Jeopardy. In all, she eschews the game theory or tactical advantages in favor of a straightforward, trivia-minded approach.
And it's suiting her just fine. Her fans, including former Survivor contestant Eliza Orlins, are ok with that.
Still, don't be fooled by her mild-mannered appearance, beaming smile, and Midwest accent. Sandie's run is sparking fear in everyone, including Chu.
Haven't been live tweeting @Jeopardy but I am officially scared of this Sandie woman— Arthur Chu (@arthur_affect) April 14, 2014
And it's even scarier because she's such a completely un-scary person— Arthur Chu (@arthur_affect) April 14, 2014