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James Holzhauer is breaking ‘Jeopardy!’ and making geniuses look like idiots

Most winners average $19,980 a night. He’s taking home over $69,000.

It takes something special for Jeopardy! to become appointment television. James Holzhauer is something special. For 10 straight nights the professional gambler from Las Vegas hasn’t just dominated the show, he’s made everyone look foolish in the process.

It isn’t just that James keeps on winning, it’s how he’s winning that’s getting everyone’s attention. He’s essentially broken Jeopardy!. Any time there’s a category he picks the biggest money first, and works backwards as time allows. It breaks any natural progression from easy-to-hard that we normally see. If he hits a “Daily Double” James routinely goes all-in, mimicking pushing all his chips to the center of the table. Even when he doesn’t risk it all he wagers ludicrous amounts of money.

Tune in on any given night and you’ll normally see someone leading the game — but not like this.

One of the reasons he’s so dominant is speed. James has mastered the art of the buzzer, which Claire McNear of The Ringer explained. Essentially he’s become an expert at timing his buzzers presses in the split second contestants are allowed to buzz in — and this, paired with his knowledge and risk taking has led to this level of domination.

When it comes to Jeopardy! there remains one king: Ken Jennings. Jennings’ 74 night run in 2004 turned the show into a must-watch after a 2003 rules change allowed players to keep competing after previously being cut off at five nights. Since Jennings there have been a lot of amazing players, even some evoking the great one — but in the end nobody has come close.

Until Holzhauer. His incredible skill, paired with a peerless penchant for risk has led to him catapulting himself into second all-time in total winnings, and setting the single-day money record FOUR times in 10 nights.

That gap to Jennings might seem insurmountable, and 74 wins may be a Jeopardy! achievement we’ll never see again — but it’s the rapidity in which Holzhauer is dominating that’s incredible. Let’s examine those other top-five highest winners, based on their earnings per win.

  • Julia Collins: $21,405
  • David Madden: $22,652
  • Matt Jackson: $31,662
  • Ken Jennings: $34,063
  • James Holzhauer: $69,778

A 2017 blog on analyzed average games of Jeopardy! and found the nightly winner takes home $19,980 on average. This means Holzhauer is demolishing the average nightly game 3.5 times over. Keep in mind that nobody who reaches the main stage is a dolt either. These are ludicrously smart people, smarter than you or I. They’ve been through multiple trials to test their mettle, and by all accounts have the knowledge to answer almost any given question on a night.

And yet, Holzhauer is making everyone look foolish when they’re on the stage with him. Holzhauer has found a way to break the game, and rack up money at a rate nobody has seen before. He might be the most exciting game show participant of all time, and that alone has turned Jeopardy! into the most anticipated show after Game of Thrones.

It’s simply baffling.