James Holzhauer did not end his Jeopardy! winning streak on purpose.
Holzhauer entered the game that aired Monday just $58,480 behind all-time earnings leader Ken Jennings. But after his loss was broadcast, he spent part of the night addressing a conspiracy theory that came to life on social media, claiming he intentionally threw the game against Paoli native Emma Boettcher so he could return home to his daughter.
Two moments during Monday’s game fueled the theory. The first happened during the contestant interviews with Alex Trebek, where the longtime Jeopardy! host thanked Holzhauer’s daughter for making him a “get well soon” card following his cancer diagnosis.
Holzhauer had previously mentioned on Twitter his daughter’s desire for him to lose so they could throw a party, which some took as a signal he might want to leave the show.
But the theory received most of its fuel due to Holzhauer’s uncharacteristically low wager during Final Jeopardy.
Holzhauer entered the final round in second place, unfamiliar territory for the 34-year-old professional gambler. Holzhauer offered the correct question in the category of “Shakespeare’s Time” — “Who is Kit Marlowe?” — but despite having $23,400 to wager, he bet just $1,399.
In an interview with the Inquirer, Boettcher said she wasn’t surprised at all by Holzhauer’s low wager.
“I was studying wagering tutorials before I got on the show, and one of the things they’ll point out is, if you’re in second place going into Final Jeopardy … you have to strategize for the scenario where the person in first place gets the clue wrong, because that’s the way you’re going to win that game,” Boettcher said. “So I wasn’t surprised to see that small wager at all — I think it was exactly by the book.”
Boettcher went into Final Jeopardy with $26,600, a $3,200 lead over Holzhauer. She also answered the clue correctly and wagered $20,201, which gave her $46,801 — one dollar more than if Holzhauer had risked all his earnings.
With Holzhauer’s run over, the only contestant he still has to face is Uncle Sam. According to Robert Raiola, the director of sports and entertainment practice at the accounting firm PKF O’Connor Davies, Holzhauer will take home about $1.29 million of the $2.46 million he earned on the show, which amounts to a tax rate of about 48 percent.