James Holzhauer, the professional sports gambler who had won 32 consecutive games of Jeopardy! and earned almost $2.5 million, has finally been defeated. The loss came at the hands of Emma Boettcher, a librarian from the Chicago area, who was dominant all the way up through Final Jeopardy, when she bet big and Holzhauer tried to play it safe with a smaller bet. Both contestants answered the question correctly, but Boettcher's superior strategy won the day. She beat him by more than $20,000 -- but more than that, her aggressive play managed to keep his overall haul down to a level significantly lower than most of the games he played.
Fans had been wondering -- and either hoping for or dreading -- when Holzhauer would overtake Jennings's $2.5 million haul. He fell around $58,000 short of the mark, although with a significantly shorter winning streak -- Holzhauer won 32 in a row, Jennings 74 -- he can lay claim to an average nightly score significantly higher than anybody else in Jeopardy! history. Holzhauer and Jennings have been joking around on Twitter for days, even though both men knew that Holzhauer's winning streak would end just shy of Jennings's record. Along the way, it wasn't just Holzhauer that made a lot of money, though; Jeopardy! has had its highest ratings in over a decade as his streak heated up.
Jeopardy! fans started the spring on a down note: in March, longtime host Alex Trebek announced that he was undergoing treatment for pancreatic cancer, sending a chill through the fan community. Holzhauer's streak, the ratings, and Trebek's continued good humor have been carrying the fans through the season on a high.
Ironically, because the series tapes well in advance of its airdates, Holzhauer's streak had not yet become public knowledge when Boettcher went into the taping...so it was not long before she had to beat him that she even knew who he was and how dominant he had been.
“It was weird to be a daily watcher of Jeopardy! and somehow there’s this phenomenon that I’d never heard of," Boettcher said.
Boettcher won $46,801, which she plans to use to pay off student loans and give back to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Information and Library Science -- where she wrote her master’s paper on predicting the difficulty of trivia questions using Jeopardy! clues.