The “Jeopardy” juggernaut that is James Holzhauer continued his winning streak on Monday’s episode, but not without a scare from a college sports information director.
Brandeis’s Adam Levin lost by only $18, making for easily the closest call for Holzhauer amid his record-setting run on the popular game show. Levin said he benefited from seeing the 34-year-old professional gambler deploy his aggressive strategy before actually having to take the stage and compete against Holzhauer.
With Levin holding a score of $27,000 to Holzhauer’s $33,517 — another competitor, Jasmine Leonas, had a score of $7,800 — going into Final Jeopardy, the 46-year-old SID bet everything except for $1, and he had the right answer (in the form of a question, of course). Unfortunately for Levin, Holzhauer hasn’t racked up an astonishing $1,329,604 over 18 straight victories without a massive mental database, and he too nailed it.
(Here’s the Final Jeopardy clue, with the answer below: “The oldest of these business booster groups, formed in Marseille in 1599, uses “de” instead of “of” in the name.”)
Wagering slightly more than necessary to ensure staying ahead of Levin, while also guarding against Leonas possibly betting most if not all of what she had, Holzhauer bet $20,500 on Final Jeopardy and emerged triumphant with a final score of $54,017 to Levin’s $53,999. Before winning by just $18, Holzhauer’s closest margin came by $4,190, in a contest that aired April 11 (per fikkklefame.com).
The episodes featuring Holzhauer, who has notched the top eight single-game totals in “Jeopardy” history and is one away from tying the third-longest win streak, were recorded in February. The program does a five-day week’s worth of shows in one day, and Levin found himself called to the set but not selected as a contestant on his first day.
Levin told The Post by phone that it was “the first disappointing part” of his trip from the Boston area to Los Angeles, after “making it through the whole day, having built up all my adrenaline, only to not be picked.”
However, Levin knew he’d be on the next day. In the meantime, he’d had a valuable opportunity to scout Holzhauer as the Las Vegas resident upended the traditional “Jeopardy” practice, encouraged by producers, of contestants starting at the tops of categories with the easiest and lowest-value clues, then going through each category before moving on to another one.
Holzhauer has been relentlessly choosing the most high-value clues on the board, skipping from one category to the next and almost always betting everything when he gets a “Double Jeopardy” opportunity. He has thus been able to keep opponents off balance, but it wouldn’t amount to what it has if he weren’t also quick with the buzzer and in possession of an extraordinary amount of factoids.
“I was definitely impressed by his breadth of knowledge and his speed, and the strategy was certainly different than anything I’d seen before,” Levin said of Holzhauer, whose tactics have been occasionally employed by past contestants. “At the same time, even seeing that, I felt confident enough in myself that I’d be able to give him a good game.”
Ultimately, Levin finished with the highest second-place total in “Jeopardy” history, breaking a mark of $44,400 set in 2004, according to the fan site thejeopardyfan.com. Only “Jeopardy” winners, though, get the dollar amounts they accumulate through wagering on the show; runners-up receive $2,000 and third-place contestants receive $1,000.
Asked whether he was disappointed by such an agonizingly close loss or happy to have done so well in his own right, Levin said, “It was more of the latter.”
“As an SID of a Division III school,” he explained, “I see our student-athletes competing every day, and I see them working hard, and sometimes they win and sometimes they lose. Even when our teams have had really good results — really good teams, really good seasons — they don’t always win every game.
“Sometimes the other guy is just better, so that’s sort of how I felt.”
(In case you can’t read the handwriting in that tweet, the Final Jeopardy answer Monday was “Chamber of Commerce.”)
A 1994 graduate of Brandeis who returned to the Waltham, Mass., university in 2002 as an athletics administrator, Levin grew up in the Philadelphia area and wanted as a child to become a shortstop for the Phillies. He has since “adopted” the Red Sox after living in the Boston area for so many years, but remains an Eagles fan who “will watch the Patriots if they’re on, to appease my son a little bit.”
The fact that the Eagles’ Super Bowl breakthrough in 2018 came at the expense of New England only made it all the more sweet for Levin. “That might have been the second-best day of my last couple of years,” he said.
Of his “Jeopardy” experience, he said, “It was a great time. It was a lifelong dream that just about lived up to all my expectations. The only thing, I didn’t win, but I played as well and as hard as I possibly could have, so that’s all I can ask.”
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