Did this $2M winner break 'Jeopardy!'?

Jeopardy champion, James Holzhauer. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Sony Pictures Entertainment)
Jeopardy champion, James Holzhauer. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Sony Pictures Entertainment)

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What’s happening: James Holzhauer, a 34-year-old professional gambler from Las Vegas, had his record-setting winning streak on “Jeopardy!” come to an end on Monday. He had won 32 consecutive games and amassed a total of $2,462,216 in winnings. He holds the 10 highest individual game totals in “Jeopardy!” history, including the single-game record of $131,127. He finished about $56,000 short of the all-time winnings mark held by Ken Jennings.

Holzhauer employed an aggressive strategy that broke from the more traditional approach of starting with the lower-value, easier questions that’s been the norm for most contestants since the daily syndicated show’s 1984 debut. He used superior buzzer speed to take control of the board, went after the highest-value questions first and bet big when he tracked down a Daily Double, often building an insurmountable lead before his competitors even got on the board. One competitor described the experience as running “headfirst into a buzzsaw.”

Why there’s debate: Holzhauer’s success has drawn a lot of attention to the show. Ratings spiked as viewers flocked to marvel at his mastery. But his sheer dominance sparked criticism too, with some suggesting that he sucked the competitive joy from the game and his massive leads undercut the thrilling tension of tightly contested Final Jeopardy! rounds.

There’s also concern that the “Jeopardy!” budget may not be able to sustain his massive payouts and that any boost in the show’s popularity will be offset by the sheer dollar amount Holzhauer reaped during his winning streak.


Night after night of one-sided games is bad TV

“This run represents a bit of a producing challenge. If every episode is a blowout in which two of three contestants are basically never competitive, does that not grow uninteresting over time?” — Daniel D’Addario, Variety

The spectacle of Holzhauer’s dominance was remarkable to watch

“His precision with the buzzer, his instant recall, his encyclopedic knowledge, his daredevil wagering — his dominance is eerily superhuman. It’s as if Michael Jordan played hoops with a jetpack. Or Wayne Gretzky fired pucks out of a bazooka.” — Vinay Menon, Toronto Star

Paying out so much money could hurt the show financially

“Typically, for a long-running show the prize budget is determined by way of averages of what has been won in the past. ... James’s performance, I’m sure, is causing grief for an accountant somewhere.” — Bob Boden, former head of programming at Game Show Network, to Joe Pinsker, Atlantic

Holzhauer was exactly what the internet water cooler needed

“Does it matter if Holzhauer broke the show? After all, we’re in an era where television is more fractured than ever. Big TV events are increasingly rare, and it’s refreshing to have one topic to discuss around the virtual water cooler of the Internet ... and know what everyone is talking about without being helplessly lost in a tangle of complicated storylines, mythology and drama.” — Emily Yahr, Washington Post

He broke ‘Jeopardy!,’ and that’s a good thing

“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.’” — James Dator, SB Nation

His bold style was inspiring

“His style and approach demonstrates that success is often the product of taking chances in life. Not necessarily dangerous risks, like walking a tightrope between skyscrapers — but rather taking informed, calculated and yes, gutsy chances now and again.” — Paul J. Batura, Fox News

The boost to ratings was overstated

“While Holzhauer’s historic run has given ‘Jeopardy!’ a decent pre-upfront lift, his torrid streak has in no way brought the show to the brink of a ratings record.” — Anthony Crupi, Ad Age

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