New Jersey’s Cris Pannullo, one of Jeopardy!’s winningest contestants ever, saw his 21-game winning streak on the venerable game show end on an episode that aired earlier this week. Pannullo, 38, from Ocean City, New Jersey, ended up with the sixth-longest winning streak and fifth-highest total won ($748,286) in regular-season episodes in the show’s long history.
Pannullo, who claimed a background as a professional poker player in New Jersey before moving on to his present career as a customer-success operations manager, becomes at least the third prominent, multiple-winning contestant in recent years with ties to the poker world. James Holzhauer, a former poker and current sports-betting pro, won 32 straight matches in 2019 (fourth best all-time) and owns all the top spots on the single-episode earnings list. Alex Jacob, who in 2006 took down the United States Poker Championship main event, won six straight Jeopardy! shows in 2016 while introducing new strategies that Holzhauer, Pannullo and others also implemented, resulting in a sea change in how Jeopardy! is played.
The New Jersey native has also appeared on at least one other game show, ABC’s “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” in 2018. On Jeopardy!, his successful strategy, which like that of Jacob and Holzhauer, employed aggressive tactics involving the show’s “Daily Double” squares, even had Jeopardy!’s producers scrambling for ways to source additional prize money as he put up impressive daily totals. Holzhauer, in 2019, famously wrecked Jeopardy!’s prize-budget plans with huge daily win totals, topping the $100,000 mark on six different occasions.
Pannullo never quite reached those heights, though as with the show’s other history-making winners, his departure from Jeopardy! was an upset. In his try for a 22nd straight win he built an early lead, but he missed a huge-value Daily Double and had to rebuild his episode’s bank. Pannullo did exactly that, narrowly passing eventual episode winner Andy Tirrell entering “Final Jeopardy”. However, Tirrell came up with the Shakespearean-themed Final Jeopardy question — “What is the Tempest?” — while Pannullo drew a blank, wrongly came up with “The Little Mermaid” to the aquatic-themed answer, and saw his run come to an end.
Pannullo will likely return for the show’s season-ending Tournament of Champions and for other special events that Jeopardy! occasionally films.
As a professional poker player, Pannullo appears to have focused on cash-game grinding, which produces few online records. CardPlayer’s tournament-results data base shows only one result for a “CT Pannullo” from New Jersey, a modest seventh-place showing for $1,731 in a WSOP satellite in 2010. Whether Pannullo also played extensively online is not readily available information.
However, Pannullo did have enough of a poker background that CardPlayer picked him up as a freelance writer in 2008 to help with World Series of Poker coverage. Pannullo authored three pieces for CP during that series, but did not continue working on the media side of the game.
Featured image source: Jeopardy!