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Musings on James Holzhauer

On Monday, James Holzhauer lost on the game show Jeopardy.

He was only about $60,000 off from Ken Jennings' record, the previous Jeopardy* champion's, when he lost. That's about his one-episode average. However, he was defeated by Emma Boettcher on the episode that was about to do it. And I was sad. Why would I be sad? There's no logical reason for me to be.

To answer this question, I will start by explaining my Jeopardy story. 

My Jeopardy Story

When I was younger, I had a major affinity for trivia. I committed to memorizing each president, their spouse, their vice president, their political party, and their term(s), and I still remember almost all of this, for example. So it's no surprise that I used to watch Jeopardy a lot. I got pretty good at getting the answers, too. 

But about a year ago, I stopped watching Jeopardy. All the trivia questions felt so useless to me. These contestants have to memorize so many random, pointless facts under the guise of educational value. 

Then James Holzhauer came along. I listened to the Planet Money podcast about his strategy (it's one of my favorite Planet Moneys ever) and started watching. I thought the way he played was interesting, and he was fun to watch. 

Tangent: The Wake

If I ever go on Jeopardy, I will definitely take inspiration from James Holzhauer's strategy. It's worth noting that a strategy similar to Holzhauer's has been utilized by many previous champions, and people still didn't use it very much until he came along, when many of his opponents used it. Many contestants still don't practice with the buzzer, for instance, even though all the pros do as well. I think there's a sort of "wake" that champions akin to Holzhauer leave, where they inspire people to use their strategy while they're on the show, but once they're off it, contestants revert to the norm.

[Wix-exclusive edit: This actually doesn't make any sense, because contestants didn't even know Holzhauer was a champion since Jeopardy is taped in advance]

Team Allegiance

First of all, I wasn't that sad when he lost. I wasn't depressed, mortified, or angry. I just wished that he won. I didn't get any money or even points if he won. Why? I think it's because of something called team allegiance. We feel the need to find a team that we are allegiant to and we can support unconditionally, in order to make watching things like sports games more interesting. This principle fits exactly. I only watched games with Holzhauer (though I might watch Emma Boettcher to see if she's the real deal–I bet she's the champion for at least a week; probably more, since she practiced the buzzer** and knows how to bet on Daily Doubles) and felt sad when he lost, because he was my team

This actually fits perfectly with my idea of points from "Pointing Yourself in the Right Direction." I feel like his points are my points, so even though I'm not writing them down, I feel a sense of ownership in them.


Another possible reason I was sad when James Holzhauer was defeated was that he was only around $60,000 off from beating Ken Jennings. I felt like he deserved to beat Jennings, as he was a better player in my opinion, and I felt allegiant to Holzhauer over Jennings. I just felt like the streak taking-over need to be completed, since it was so close. So now, fittingly, this post is complete. 

Thanks for reading what I wrote. Insert Jeopardy theme music here. 


Originally aired June 05, 2019

*And yes, I know it's technically styled Jeopardy!

**This is actually a crucial strategy to winning in Jeopardy. Each contestant's goal is to buzz in right after the host, Alex Trebek, finishes talking, but before any of the other contestants do. See, most of the contestants are really good at trivia–that's why they're on Jeopardy. But really, Jeopardy is often more about buzzer skills than anything else. This was a main advantage of champions such as Holzhauer. Each additional game they win gives them more buzzer practice, decreasing the chance of defeat even further.


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