The Rise and Fall of “Jeopardy James” Holzhauer

A new legend has risen in the world of television game shows, but his fall from grace occurred just before the publication of this article.

James Holzhauer, originally from Naperville, Ill., had been demolishing records and fellow contestants on the Emmy award-winning quiz show “Jeopardy!” for almost two months.

“Jeopardy!” champion James Holzhauer

Winning his first game during the episode that aired on April 4, Holzhauer steamrolled his way through 32 consecutive games, racking up an impressive $2.46 million. This placed him in second place for winnings and games won during regular play, bested only by “Jeopardy!” giant Ken Jennings.

However, during the episode that aired on June 3, a new challenger, Chicago librarian Emma Boettcher, was the reason for his defeat.  

Emma Boettcher gracing the “Jeopardy!” stage

While Boettcher was in the lead going into the Final Jeopardy round with $26,600, Holzhauer trailed closely with $23,400 and Jay Sexton, an engineer from Atlanta, followed with $11,000.

The Final Jeopardy question that undid Holzhauer’s streak? “The line ‘a great reckoning in a little room’ in ‘As You Like It’ is usually taken to refer to this author’s premature death” in the category of “Shakespeare’s Time.”

All three of the contestants gave the correct figure, Shakespearean contemporary Christopher Marlowe, as their response.

Boettcher’s game-winning moment. (Source: @Jeopardy!)

While Holzhauer only wagered a reasonable $1,399, Boettcher bet enough money to beat his doubled score by a dollar, had he decided to go all in. With a total score of $46,801, the 27-year old Boettcher secured her fate as the new “Jeopardy!” champion.           

“As soon as the game was over, I turned to the guys and I said, ‘I’m so proud of us. This is so rare. Look at what we did,’” she stated to Julia Jacobs of the New York Times.

Nicknamed “Jeopardy James,” Holzhauer, a professional sports gambler residing in Las Vegas, accomplished his streak by utilizing strategic aggressive wagers and a quick buzzer finger.  

Often hitting Daily Doubles, where a contestant can risk as much as their current winnings to answer a certain question, he bet a high percentage of his winnings hoping to answer correctly. That strategy usually worked out in his favor; during his streak, he accurately answered 72 of 76 Daily Doubles, earning $654,416 in the process.

Another method that Holzhauer used in his conquest was the Forrest Bounce, named for five-game “Jeopardy!” champion Chuck Forrest.  Using this technique, contestants hop around the board during the first two rounds of play, confusing opponents by bouncing from category to category and selecting high-value clues early in the round.  

A YouTube clip explaining Holzhauer’s playing style.

He explained in an interview with the New York Times that this was his intent from the beginning.

“I definitely had the idea right away,” he stated. “You can see as soon as I get control of the board in the first game I’m going for the $1,000 clues whenever I have the opportunity.”   

The Forrest Bounce allowed Holzhauer to amass large amounts of money quickly and secure his chances of winning a match; 29 of his 32 wins were lock games (also known as runaways), where the leading player going into the Final Jeopardy round has more than twice the score of their closest opponent.

Past “Jeopardy!” champion Arthur Chu used the “Forrest Bounce” to great effect.

Additionally, a prime component of Holzhauer’s quiz show domination was his impeccable knowledge of many different categories of trivia. Out of 1,222 answers that he gave throughout the streak, 1,186 of them were correct; this statistic places his response accuracy at an astounding 97.1 percent.  

Much of his intellect has been earned through reading kids’ books, which contain plenty of infographics and pictures to amuse young readers and keep them occupied with the material. These books have helped Holzhauer learn a vast collection of information through an easy-to-digest format.

“You may be able to read an adult book about a boring subject without falling asleep, but I can’t,” he mentioned in an interview with the Washington Post. “For me, it was either read some children’s books—designed to engage the reader—or go into “Jeopardy!” with giant gaps in my knowledge base.”

Some of the records on the quiz show currently held by the 34-year-old include the highest single-day score of $131,127 and the largest successful Daily Double and Final Jeopardy wagers ($25,000 and $60,013). All three were set during the game originally broadcast on April 9.

Five years prior to his record-shattering run, Holzhauer appeared on the American version of “The Chase,” a game show where teams of three face one or more acclaimed trivia competitors known as chasers in a bid to win prize money.  

Holzhauer’s appearance on “The Chase”.

He and the other two team members banked a whopping $175,000 against chaser Mark “The Beast” Labbett. Defeating the Beast in the Final Chase round with a score of 26 points to Labbett’s nine, each team member took home over 58 thousand dollars.

Later, in 2015, Holzhauer was a contestant on the show “500 Questions,” but did not earn any winnings from his time there.

Holzhauer on the show “500 Questions”.

With a daily average of $76,944 heading into Monday’s broadcast, Holzhauer had the potential to surpass Jennings’ winnings record ($2,520,700) that day, though he missed the mark by a mere $56,484.

Nate Scheffey, a “Jeopardy!” contestant who came close to beating Holzhauer, recently told the New York Post that he believed the titan could pass Jennings’ winnings record, due to the fact that he was so close to the goal.

On the other hand, Jennings’ record of 74 consecutive wins, which he has held for almost fifteen years, is an obstacle waiting to be overcome.

“That 74-game record is truly incredible,” Scheffey added. “It’s one of those things that happens in sports where it’s like, almost unbelievable that it happened. And it couldn’t happen again.”

After the episode aired, fans took to Twitter to voice their opinions, with many theorizing that the former champion had thrown the game.

“I lost to a really top-level competitor,” Holzhauer told the New York Times in another interview. “She played a perfect game. And that was what it took to beat me.”

Multiple former “Jeopardy!” champions reacted to the surprise loss on social media, including Jennings, Buzzy Cohen and Brad Rutter.

Rutter, who holds the show winnings record (for regular and tournament play combined), praised Holzhauer on Twitter.

“Huge congrats to James on an epic run,” he wrote. “What a fun ride. Selfishly, I’m a little bummed to no longer be the ‘Jeopardy champion personally recognized by the most Las Vegas casino employees.’”

(Source: @James_Holzhauer)

“Big ups to Emma as well,” he continued. “She saw her opportunity and took hold of it with a kung fu death grip. Excited to see what she does going forward. Respect to Jay, too. That was maybe the Greatest Jeopardy Game Ever Played.”

(Source: @nowthisnews)

Boettcher made “Jeopardy!” history the next day by becoming the first contestant to defeat an ultra-champion (a player who has won at least ten games) and win their next match.

Maxwell Patton
Contributing Writer

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