Answer: He’s broken “Jeopardy!”
Question: Who is James Holzhauer?
He’s the 34-year-old professional sports gambler who made his “Jeopardy!” debut April 4 and has been the runaway victor in every game since. Last week, he became the second player to break the $1 million prize total.
The media says he’s broken the show with his strategies because, basically, there seems to be no way to beat him. Rather than start with the $200 and $400 clues, he goes after the bigger money to amass a mini-fortune, which lets him wager really big when he hits Daily Doubles. Holzhauer dispassionately puts $10,000 or more at risk.
But these strategies would not work if he did not know a great deal about a great many things — from chemical elements to John Updike novels. In an era when you can look up anything on your phone, Holzhauer reminds us how impressive it is to store random knowledge in your brain. One way he boned up was by reading children’s books, which he recommends because they are “all short” and “there’s pictures everywhere.”
Sure, his episodes lack suspense about who will triumph. But he is entertaining in his own right, with a calm yet determined demeanor and a self-deprecating sense of humor. Plus, he’s doing it all for his late grandmother, who watched “Jeopardy” with him when he was a boy. “I promised her I’d one day be up on that stage for her,” Holzhauer told Vulture. “I don’t promise anything unless I intend to fulfill it.”
So is “Jeopardy!” broken? Au contraire: I think the 55-year-old show is more engaging than ever thanks to the amazing Holzhauer. His success also confirms that “Jeopardy” is perhaps the most multigenerational show on TV. In my family, viewers include my mom, who’s, er, past 75, my Baby Boomer self, my millennial daughters and now my 10-year-old cousin, Sadie, who saw the show for the first time at our house last week.
“It was exciting,” Sadie says. “It was fast-moving. It just seemed crazy that they knew so much — and it was for money, too!” And it’s why we’ll be watching tonight to see if Holzhauer keeps his streak going.