There’s little debate about Ken Jennings’ title as Greatest of All Time after his Jeopardy! GOAT Tournament win last week, but the title of best Jeopardy! trash talker definitely still goes to James Holzhauer. The pro sports gambler won a single match in the GOAT Tournament, unable to keep pace with Jennings as he adapted his own style to Holzhauer’s big betting strategy to win $1 million in the process.
But before, during and after the tournament, Holzhauer was the one tweeting and shading his way to getting the studio audience laughing during the show. Jennings and Brad Rutter were also in light moods during the show, something that Jennings was asked about in the wake of his victory.
In an interview with Variety where Jennings announced he was retiring from Jeopardy!, he said the thrill of being back on the stage helped to keep the mood light between three players who are fierce competitors but were willing to make jokes during the action.
“I was very stressed going into it and then it all melted away when I got back on that stage,” says Jennings. “I think it’s true for all three of us. We have such good memories there, we have so many hours of buzzer time under our belts, that – while keeping a laser-like focus on the game – we can enjoy the thrill of the moment. It’s a rare thing. And you want to enjoy every moment of that.”
Jennings admitted that Holzhauer was better at the joking than anyone and said his experience playing poker certainly gave him an edge in the smack talk because there’s usually “no place” for it on the Jeopardy! stage.
“Normally there’s no place for that on ‘Jeopardy!’, so I never got to exercise those muscles,” he says. “James is a sports gambler, so he knows the kind of trash talk that goes on at a poker table, and he’s a pro-wrestling fan, so he enjoys kind of the kayfabe, the bluster and talking and rivalries. So that was kind of fun to play with on air and on Twitter.”
Holzhauer did reference a bit of wrestling history in the lead-up to the tournament on Twitter, so there’s certainly something to this. And now that we’re back to regular Jeopardy! episodes with ordinary scores and no quips between contestants, it really does make it clear just how special — and entertaining — the GOAT Tournament was.