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‘Jeopardy!’ champ James Holzhauer defeats Philly native by just $18

Adam Levin, a Brandeis University athletics spokesperson, bet everything except for $1 on the final clue.

Reigning 'Jeopardy!' champion James Holzhauer (left) came within $18 of being upset by Philadelphia native Adam Levin (right) Monday night.
Reigning 'Jeopardy!' champion James Holzhauer (left) came within $18 of being upset by Philadelphia native Adam Levin (right) Monday night.Read moreBrandeis University / Brandeis University

Jeopardy! champ James Holzhauer won again Monday, his 18th-consecutive victory. But he was nearly defeated by Brandeis University athletics spokesperson and Philadelphia native Adam Levin, who came within $18 of ending Holzhauer’s historic run.

Levin went into Final Jeopardy with $27,000, while Holzhauer led with $33,517. Levin bet everything except for $1 on the final clue: “The oldest of these business booster groups, formed in Marseille in 1599, uses “de” instead of “of” in the name.”

The Brandeis University graduate nailed the answer (“What is the Chamber of Commerce?”), pulling him ahead of Holzhauer with $53,999. But the reigning Jeopardy! champ also answered correctly, bringing his total to $54,017, by far the closest victory he’s had during his 18-day winning streak (his next-closest margin was $4,190 on April 11).

According to Andy Saunders, who runs the website Jeopardy Fan, Levin’s $53,999 was the “highest-ever regular-play nonwinning score in the history of the show.” But Levin still only received the $2,000 runner-up award.

“So in some ways, I lost more money than anyone else,” Levin told The Inquirer. “I just did the best that I could, and I’m proud of the way it came out.”

Filming for the show happened in February, long before Holzhauer’s episodes started airing across the country. Jeopardy! films five episodes a day twice a week, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Levin ended up being an alternate on his first day on set (the show always has two on hand), so he was able to see Holzhauer win five straight games before taking the stage to compete against the professional sports gambler.

“I was probably more aggressive on the ‘Daily Doubles’ than I imagine I would have been because I had seen James do the same thing,” Levin said. “Especially playing from behind, I knew there was no chance if I wasn’t more aggressive.”

Now living in the Boston suburb of Ashland, Mass., Levin grew up in suburban Philadelphia, where he rooted for the Eagles and dreamed of one day playing shortstop for the Phillies. He first tried out for the show back in 2006, but wasn’t selected from the audition. He took the test again in April 2017, and auditioned in Philadelphia that summer. On a Friday evening in January, he found out that he would compete on the show.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to be on Jeopardy!” Levin said. “Whether I finished with $1 or $53,999, it was going to be an amazing experience no matter what.”

Meanwhile, Holzhauer (who recently compared himself to Phillies slugger Bryce Harper) will return Tuesday in a bid to extend his dominant streak. He’s already the second-most-successful contestant in the show’s history, pushing his total winning to $1,329,604. Ken Jennings remains in first place with winnings of $2,520,700 over 74 games.

In March, longtime Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek announced that he had been diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Earlier this month, the 78-year-old host offered a health update for fans on the last day of filming for Season 35, saying he was “feeling good” and already hard at work on next season.

“I look forward to seeing you once again in September with all kinds of good stuff,” Trebek said.