Who is Emma Boettcher?
Boettcher, a librarian at the University of Chicago who grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs, is the new Jeopardy! champion, ending James Holzhauer’s winning streak Monday at 32 games.
Boettcher, 27, began to get into trivia as a student at Conestoga High School, and developed an affinity for Jeopardy! and its longtime host, Alex Trebek. Boettcher auditioned four times for the show (the first during her senior year of high school in 2010) before breaking through following her 2017 audition.
At Princeton University, Boettcher began keeping track of what clues she would get correct and which she got wrong. So when she made it onto the show, she knew her weak spots and the topics Jeopardy! tends to lean on.
“As far as preparation, I looked up some tutorials online about how to wager, especially for Final Jeopardy,” Boettcher said. “But I also knew that a large part of the game for me was the mental aspect, keeping focused while being on the set of my favorite TV show.”
Monday’s episode was filmed March 12, before the episodes featuring Holzhauer began to air.
“I knew going in that I’d have to play someone that had won at least one game,” Boettcher said. “So I just tried to put myself in the mindset that whether his win streak was one game or 32, I still have to go out there and put all these years of love for the show and trivia to good use."
This conversation with Boettcher has been edited for length and clarity.
What’s it like being a ‘Jeopardy!’ champion?
It’s an amazing feeling, truly. Just being on Jeopardy! was one dream for me. And then to be on and hold my own was another dream. And then to be on and hold my own and then win was just way beyond anything I ever expected.
Your episode was filmed almost three months ago. What was it like having to keep it a secret that not only did you win, you unseated a dominant player like Holzhauer, who had become a national figure?
I couldn’t tell anybody. Thankfully, my parents were at the taping. My sister, whom I’m very close with, I couldn’t tell her. And my friends, I couldn’t tell them. For the most part, people were pretty respectful and didn’t ask me too many questions about it. But it was also very difficult keeping the secret that I was playing [Holzhauer] as people started getting into his run.
When did you become aware of Holzhauer’s run on the show?
I hadn’t seen his win streak, because his games started airing in early April. So I had never seen him play. I was also taping in the first show filmed of the day. ... At some point in the green room before the show, they introduced us to James, and he’s won 32 games and he’s won so much money, and that was the first time I’d heard of that.
Was there a moment in the game where you realized you had a shot at defeating him?
The big turning point of the game for me was a Daily Double in the second round, on capitals. I don’t remember the exact clue, but I do remember that I was pretty far behind at that point. And it was a clue that was higher up on the board, so I knew it was likely to be easier.
So every sign was telling me to go true Daily Double there, so that’s what I did. And I was able to convert it and finally thought, ‘Oh, I’m back in this.’ … After that I didn’t allow myself to think I had a chance until Alex said, ‘Hey, you won.’
Were you surprised during Final Jeopardy when Holzhauer got the clue correct, but wagered such a small amount of money?
No, I wasn’t surprised at all. It was a strategic 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. So I wasn’t surprised to see that small wager at all — I think it was exactly by the book.
Growing up a fan of the show, what was it like finally meeting Alex Trebek, and was there any mention of his pancreatic cancer diagnosis?
The news of Trebek’s diagnosis came out about a week before I was on the show. ... On the show I don’t recall it being talked about a great deal, but during the contestant interviews Holzhauer’s daughter made a card for [Trebek].
I give [Trebek] so much credit — he was telling stories and making jokes. He kept the pace of the game going, which is an achievement in itself. And I was relieved to hear the news last week about that fact that treatment has been making real progress.