Spoiler alert: In a twist that could rival a great TV drama, “Jeopardy!” powerhouse James Holzhauer lost on Monday — falling just shy of previous champion Ken Jennings’ record winnings.
Holzhauer’s historic run, in which he averaged a jaw-dropping nearly $77,000 per episode, came to an end after his 33rd game. In a brief clip that leaked Sunday and quickly circulated around the Internet, Holzhauer lost to a contestant named Emma Boettcher, who beat him by nearly $22,000 in the Final Jeopardy round. (An employee at the local CBS affiliate in Montgomery, Alabama, which shows “Jeopardy!” at 9:30 a.m. Central Time, confirmed the episode airs Monday.)
“What a game! Oh my God,” said host Alex Trebek, as a grinning Holzhauer gave Emma a high five.
Holzhauer won $2,462,216 over 32 games, and only needed $58,485 to break the all-time regular season record held by Jennings — who earned $2,520,700 over 74 games in 2004. Given that Holzhauer is a professional sports gambler who casually wagered massive amounts on the Daily Double or Final Jeopardy, it seemed extremely likely that he would leap over Jennings on Monday.
Unless, of course, the unthinkable happened.
Holzhauer, who steamrolled 65 contestants with his seemingly endless and unstoppable trivia knowledge, wasn’t even in the lead in Final Jeopardy during his last episode. Boettcher led with $26,600 while Holzhauer had $23,400. Jay Sexton trailed with $11,000.
Sexton revealed his answer to Final Jeopardy first; the category was “Shakespearan themes.” He guessed the Elizabethan playwright and poet Christopher “Kit” Marlowe. Correct! He bet $6,000, which brought his total to $7,000.
“Over to James,” Trebek said. Holzhauer got the answer right, of course – but, strangely, only wagered $1,399. “A modest one for the first time,” Trebek commented, as Holzhauer’s new total became $24,799.
“So, Emma, it’s up to you – if you came up with the correct response, you’re going to be the new ‘Jeopardy!’ champion,” Trebek said. “Did you?”
She did! Boettcher also guessed Marlowe and wagered $20,000, meaning she won $46,801 and trounced Holzhauer in the process.
“Oh gosh. What a payday!” Trebek said as the audience gasped.
Combined with his $2,000 coming in second place, Holzhauer’s total winnings is $2,464,216. The obvious question: Why did Holzhauer bet such a small amount? While he’s known for throwing out numbers that have a special significance, they’re typically in the five-figure range. Did he lose on purpose? Was it out of respect for Jennings?
Holzhauer did not return a request for comment; nor did Jennings or a “Jeopardy!” publicist. Though over the weekend, Holzhauer offered one clue that his time on “Jeopardy!” wouldn’t be the worst thing,”
“My kid cried about the possibility of her dad losing, so I told her we could have a party the day after it inevitably happens,” he tweeted. “Now she cries when I win.”