James Holzhauer’s 22-game Jeopardy! winning streak was put on hold for two weeks while the show held its annual Teacher’s Tournament, but on Monday, he returned to his familiar defending champion’s podium and dominated as he has throughout his run.
Entering Tuesday night’s episode, he was at just a shade under $1.8 million in his 23 wins, rapidly closing in on Ken Jennings’ mark of nearly $2.5 million. Jennings is Jeopardy! royalty and has parlayed his 74-game winning streak on the show into a career as an author of many books and also has served as the only expert who can speak on what Holzhauer is doing with real authority.
Jennings has stated previously he wouldn’t have the stomach for Holzhauer’s aggressive betting strategy, but he’s long been one of Jeopardy James’ biggest supporters. There are many that feel he’s ruining the show with his dominance, but the ratings and Jennings disagree.
What Holzhauer is doing isn’t just fascinating because of the massive amounts of money he’s raking in on a nightly basis, but, as Jennings explained in a recent op-ed for the Washington Post, because he had the audacity to do something no one had ever really succeeded in trying on the show.
That’s what we should appreciate about Holzhauer: the insane confidence of even trying to play “Jeopardy!” according to an untested personal strategy. Every contestant who gets on “Jeopardy!” has watched the show for hundreds or thousands of hours. We’ve internalized its rhythms. But when it all rises up and surrounds you, “Jeopardy!” is an overwhelming and stressful experience. You’ve got the lights, the crowd, the stern Canadian host — but most of all the realization that this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance. As soon as you lose a game, the dream is over.
In that kind of crucible, it’s no wonder that just about everyone plays “Jeopardy!” the low-impact way they play from their couches at home. Imagine the kind of moxie it takes to tell yourself, “Actually, I have a theory. Everyone else has been playing ‘Jeopardy!’ wrong for decades. Today, the first time in my life I pick up that buzzer, I’m going to try something different.” Just taking that chance is what I admire most about Holzhauer.
It’s a really interesting perspective from Jennings, who goes on to say this is why he’s rooting for Holzhauer and finds him enthralling to watch. He looked at classic Jeopardy! strategy and realized that, provided you have the knowledge and buzzer skills, you’re leaving tens of thousands of dollars on the table by not attacking big numbers and Daily Doubles. The result has been a run we’ve never seen and, at least in terms of longevity, likely won’t again any time in the near future whenever he’s finally toppled.
That night was not Tuesday, as he once again rolled through his opponents, hitting all the Daily Doubles and Final Jeopardy en route to just under $87,000 to bring him to well over $1.8 million for his 24-game total.