WHILE Ken Jennings will always hold a special place in my heart, there’s a new champion who’s got all the answers to life’s questions—or at least those asked every weeknight at 7:30 p.m.
His name is James Holzhauer, and around my house, we call him “Jeopardy! James.” He’s changing everything about the popular quiz show, from running the board to betting big without batting an eye.
To those who haven’t watched “Jeopardy!” in recent weeks, you’ve missed the phenom: a 34-year-old unassuming professional sports gambler from Las Vegas. A lot’s been said in the press and social media about the way Holzhauer wracks up money pretty early in the game, finds the daily doubles and then bets tens of thousands of dollars without a moment’s hesitation.
Several times, he’s pushed his palms forward as if he were putting all the poker chips on the line, saying: “house limit.” The first couple times he bet it all, I’m sure there was a collective gasp among viewing households nationwide, but after four weeks of winning, we’ve come to expect it.
His gambling guts have paid off. Holzhauer has won $1.69 million in 22 games and set records all over the place. He holds the top 12 slots for single-game winnings, with his highest total FOR ONE DAY being $131,127.
“Jeopardy!” ratings are up, along with Holzhauer’s bank balance. A report from the Deadline website, which covers breaking Hollywood news, says “Jeopardy!” finished first among syndicated shows for the last two consecutive weeks of Holzhauer’s appearance, beating even the perennial favorite, “Judge Judy.”
The last time the game show hit the top spot for two consecutive weeks was when the congenial champion Ken Jennings captured our attention in September 2004. He holds the record for consecutive games won (74) and the highest winnings in regular season play ($2.52 million).
You don’t have to be a genius to see that “Jeopardy!” James has made more than half that amount in less than a third of the time. If you want every detail of his reign, you can see his daily average ($76,864), his response accuracy (97 percent) and other fascinating details on the show’s website, jeopardy.com/contestant-zone/james-holzhauer-tracker.
A recent profile in The New York Times said Holzhauer was identified as a math whiz at age 4 and doing fifth-grade math by 7. He skipped second grade altogether.
His knowledge goes well beyond formulas. Every time I watch him in action, I shake my head in amazement at how ridiculously smart he is, about all sorts of categories.
He’s as familiar with British literature as American movies, he knows food and foreign languages, pop culture and potent potables, science and sports.
Holzhauer said he prepped for competition by visiting the children’s section of the local library. He said the photos and condensed information were great. (He’s not known for his gift of gab, at least on the show.)
He must have a photographic memory. Given the way he can retrieve information in a nano second, he also must have read every book ever printed, watched every movie ever made and played every video game ever invented.
“Jeopardy!” James hasn’t been on the show since May 3 because of the annual teachers’ tournament, which lasts two weeks. He’ll return May 20, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.