James Holzhauer won 32 straight Jeopardy! games, amassing the second-highest winnings total in the show’s history. But his widely watched streak came to an end with the episode that aired Monday, when a librarian who grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs took the win.
Holzhauer’s dominant performance on the TV game show ended with an uncharacteristically meager bet in “Final Jeopardy.”
The 34-year-old professional gambler from Las Vegas entered the final round of Monday’s show in the unusual spot of second place, trailing Paoli native and Princeton University graduate Emma Boettcher by $3,200. While Holzhauer offered the correct question in the category of “Shakespeare’s Time” — “Who is Kit Marlowe?”, about a 16th century English playwright — the normally aggressive Holzhauer wagered just $1,399, leaving him with a total of $24,799.
Boettcher, a user-experience librarian at the University of Chicago, also provided the correct question but wagered $20,201, leaving her with the winning total of $46,801.
“What a game. Oh, my gosh. What a way to start the week,” Trebek said as Holzhauer gave Boettcher a high-five following her victory.
Filming for Monday’s episode took place in March, before Holzhauer’s shows began airing across the country. Jeopardy! films five episodes a day twice a week, and Boettcher’s episode was the first of the day, so she wasn’t aware of Holzhauer’s dominance until minutes before taking the stage.
“At some point in the green room before the show, they introduced us to [Holzhauer], and told us he’s won 32 games and he’s won so much money,” Boettcher, 27, told The Inquirer. “I’m really glad I hadn’t had to watch his games, that the details were kind of fuzzy for me, because those numbers were so large that I almost couldn’t process them.”
During his winning streak, Holzhauer took home $2,464,220 (which includes the $2,000 for his second-place finish Monday night), second only to Ken Jennings, who won $2,520,700 during his 74-game winning streak in 2004.
Few challengers managed to keep pace with Holzhauer, who dominated with an aggressive strategy of going for high-dollar answers and large wagers on Daily Doubles. It was a strategy Boettcher used herself, going all-in with a true Daily Double in the second round on a clue under a category about capitals that begin with the letter “A.”
"I was able to convert it and finally thought, ‘Oh, I’m back in this,' " Boettcher said. “After that I didn’t allow myself to think I had a chance until Alex said, ‘Hey, you won.’”
The contestant who previously came closest was another player with ties to Philadelphia. Adam Levin, a Brandeis University athletics spokesperson and Philly native, lost to Holzhauer by just $18 in the game that aired April 29.
Holzhauer set the show’s record for single-game earnings with $131,127, and won an average of $77,000 per game. He displayed knowledge that spanned topics, only missing one “Final Jeopardy” clue and four “Daily Doubles” during his 33-episode stint.
Holzhauer’s win streak and playing style also propelled Jeopardy! to its highest ratings in four years, enough to edge out perennial syndicated ratings champ Judge Judy this month. Last Thursday, Jeopardy! drew a larger television audience in Philadelphia than Game 1 of the NBA Finals between the Toronto Raptors and Golden State Warriors.
A video showing Holzhauer’s loss leaked onto Twitter Sunday night before being forced down. After his defeat was widely reported, Holzhauer jumped on Twitter to mock USA Today, which published a story Monday morning suggesting the champ’s winning streak was likely to continue well into the future.
Jeopardy! is in its 35th broadcast year in its current version; the show originally debuted in 1964. The show wrapped up filming in April, but the final episode of Season 35 will air on July 26, before the show turns to reruns during the summer. Season 36 will premiere in September.