This news may excite the many Jeopardy competitors who suffered devastating losses to Holzhauer, or viewers who grew tired of him dominating — and potentially “breaking” — the game. But it’s undoubtedly something of a disappointment to many Jeopardy viewers who were eager to see to see a long-held record finally surpassed. Many fans expected Holzhauer to unseat Jeopardy’s winningest contestant, Ken Jennings, who earned $2,522,700 in a 74-game winning streak in 2004.
Instead, Holzhauer leaves the show with $2,462,216 in earnings — about $60,000 shy of Jennings’s record.
In his 33rd and final game, Holzhauer emerged from the Final Jeopardy round with just $24,799 to his name — a pretty low total for Holzhauer, who’s become known for his consistently high earnings. For context, his 32 victories yielded an average take home of almost $77,000 per game, and he now holds Jeopardy’s record for highest single-game total with $131,127. (The average Jeopardy contestant takes home $19,980 per game.)
Emma Boettcher, the Chicago-area librarian who beat Holzhauer, racked up $46,801 for the easy win.
It may have been Holzhauer’s own tactical methods that did him in. Just like all top Jeopardy contestants, Holzhauer had an impressive knack for trivia. But the pro gambler’s calculated strategy relied on hunting for Daily Doubles (which give Jeopardy contestants a chance to double their earnings) and betting big whenever he found one; this approach frequently helped him establish an early and outsize lead. He was also exceptionally quick at buzzing in, helping him beat his competitors to the board. And Holzhauer typically placed very high bets during Final Jeopardy, the clincher round where players wage their earnings on one last response. Combined with the fact that he rarely answered a clue incorrectly, these strategies made him seem nearly unstoppable.
But Bettcher used many of these same strategies against him in her first winning game. She frequently beat Holzhauer to the buzzer, and sought out Daily Doubles, a true Holzhauer protégé.
“I knew going in that Daily Double hunting was something that I could do and feel confident doing,” Boettcher told the New York Times in a pre-air interview. “I don’t need to be cautious around that.”
Perhaps more crucially, however, Boettcher was willing to make a high wager during Final Jeopardy. She bet $20,201 in the last round — while Holzhauer bet a meager $1,399, uncharacteristically low for him.
Boettcher will play her second game of Jeopardy on June 4. Meanwhile, Holzhauer is making very good jokes at his own expense on Twitter, indulging an apparently much more wry side of his personality than we’ve seen on Jeopardy, where he displayed competitive laser focus:
— James Holzhauer (@James_Holzhauer) June 3, 2019
Although Holzhauer was unable to surpass Jennings as Jeopardy’s biggest winner of all time, he’ll likely remain the record holder for both the highest payout for a single game and the most money won on average per game for a long time. And not only are his total earnings of $2.4 million nothing to sniff at, but he also boosted Jeopardy’s to its best ratings in 14 years. Holzhauer made the game a buzzworthy event for the first time in years — taking it beyond a comfortable weeknight staple to must-see TV for all kinds of fans.
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