Longtime fans of “Jeopardy!” and casual viewers alike have been astounded by the run of one contestant who has been shattering records on the trivia show.
James Holzhauer of Las Vegas passed the $1 million mark in winnings on Tuesday’s episode, finishing with a 14-day total of $1,061,554.
Holzhauer, 34, has set the record for the largest amount won on a single show – $131,127 on April 17.
That’s almost double the previous one-day record, $77,000, won by former champion Roger Craig.
The son of Nachiko Ide and Juergen Holzhauer, he is a native of Naperville, Ill., and is a professional gambler. In an interview with Newsweek, he said his parents lived a frugal lifestyle and credits that type of thinking for shaping how he lives his own life.
“I think they’re responsible for my attitude of always looking for good value, especially in my work,” he said.
Holzhauer uses a bold strategy while playing the game, choosing the higher-paying questions first and risking large amounts in Daily Doubles and the Final Jeopardy questions.
The strategy is known as the “Forrest Bounce,” in which the contestant jumps around from category to category, choosing tiles out of order to throw off his or her opponents. Some view the tactic as controversial, but it also includes the risk of big losses, if the bettor doesn’t come up with the correct answers.
Thus far, Holzhauer hadn’t had any such issues, displaying an impressive and broad knowledge base within just about any subject that comes up in the game.
“All good professional gamblers are selectively aggressive,” he said in an NPR interview. “You need to pick your spots and bet big when you identify them. That’s basically my ‘Jeopardy!’ strategy in a nutshell.”
Holzhauer is also gaining fans for the tributes to family and friends that he writes in along with his Final Jeopardy answers.
On the April 17, his correct response was underscored with a message, “This is for you Granny,” which he later explained was a tribute to his grandmother, who moved from Japan in order to help raise her grandchildren. She often watched the show with young James, despite not having full command of the language.
“Her first language wasn’t English, so she couldn’t follow along well, but she wanted to share this experience with me since she saw it was something I really liked,” he told host Alex Trebek. “I promised her I’d one day be up on that stage for her. I don’t promise anything unless I intend to fulfill it.”
Holzhauer’s wife, Melissa, has had trivia game success of her own. In 2014, she won $28,800 on the show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”
The all-time leader in winnings on “Jeopardy!” is Ken Jennings, who in 2004 went on an amazing 74-day run of success and finished with a total of $2,520,700. Combined with a second-place finish that ended his run, along with winning in special “Jeopardy!” tournaments, Jennings has won more than $3 million from the show.
Jennings told Wired that he has been following Holzhauer’s run and is “just gobsmacked” and excited for him to possibly surpass his own record.
“As a fan of the show, I’m actually rooting for James or anybody who can take a swing at that record,” Jennings said. “It’s bizarre to me that it’s still a one-off.”
Not surprisingly, Holzhauer’s winning streak continued for the rest of the week. (Actually, the shows are taped well in advance, but everyone involved is sworn to secrecy.)