Warning: This post contains spoilers.
After 33 games and $2,464,216 in winnings, it’s over for Jeopardy! trivia whiz James Holzhauer, who was on the cusp of besting previous champ Ken Jennings, the show’s all time recorder holder with $2,520,700 earned over 74 games in 2004.
On Monday, Holzhauer’s historic run came to an end after librarian Emma Boettcher beat him in the television trivia game. He started out ahead by finding the show’s first Daily Double, but got it wrong. By the time Final Jeopardy rolled around, she’d taken back control of the board. Boettcher, Holzhauer, and the show’s third contestant, a senior research engineer named Jay Sexton, all got the final answer correct. Her wager of $23,400 brought her total to $46,801, cementing the defeat.
On Friday, rumors began circulating about Holzhauer’s loss, which was followed with a leaked video showing Boettcher disrupting his historic run. She’s certainly got some big shoes to fill (33 more games to beat Holzhauer and 74 to beat Jennings!)—can she do it?
Who is Boettcher?
She’s a 27-year-old librarian from Chicago, who’s worked as a user experience resident librarian at the University of Chicago since 2016. She graduated from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill with a master of science in information science. According to the Chicago Tribune, her thesis for the degree, “Predicting the Difficulty of Trivia Questions Using Text Features,” relied on Jeopardy! clues (!!!!!!).
She’s a lifelong fan of the show, according to The New York Times, and watches it “religiously.” She even fashioned her own buzzer and began recording her scores from home.
Boettcher reportedly auditioned for the Jeopardy! College Championship during her undergrad years at Princeton, according to the Daily Princetonian. Her friend made the cut, although it’s unclear whether she did as well.
“She’s such a perfect candidate for the show because she’s obviously incredibly smart and also very personable,” Boettcher told the newspaper of her pal. “Sometimes you get kind of arrogant people in Jeopardy that are just obsessed with showing off how smart they are, and Terry’s not like that all.”
How did she edge out Holzhauer?
Holzhauer dominated the game for weeks with a very specific strategy. He grabbed high-value questions first, hunting for the Double Jeopardy items. When he found them, he bet everything.
“A lot of the opponents have adjusted to the strategy,” he said in the interview, “but not all of them have had the guts to actually back it up with a big bet.”
Boettcher took a similar approach. “I knew going in that Daily Double hunting was something that I could do and feel confident doing,” she said. “I don’t need to be cautious around that.”
When Boettcher landed a Daily Double, she wagered everything—and got the answer right. According to The New York Times, Boettcher thought to herself, “I’ve got a shot now.” When the trivia game reached Final Jeopardy, Boettcher was leading the scoreboard. The final clue was, “The line ‘A great reckoning in a little room’ in ‘As You Like It’ is usually taken to refer to this author’s premature death.” Her win came after all three contestants answered correctly: “Who is Marlowe?”
What was Alex Trebek’s response when she defeated Holzhauer?
The crowd gasped as Trebek announced, “Oh gosh! What a payday. What a game!”
In a show of good sportsmanship, Holzhauer then walked over to give Boettcher and they high-fived. “Nobody likes to lose,” he told The New York Times. “But I’m very proud of how I did, and I really exceeded my own expectations for the show. So I don’t feel bad about it.”
“I lost to a really top-level competitor,” he added. “She played a perfect game. And that was what it took to beat me.”
He later jokingly tweeted, “Knew I shouldn’t have invited @Drake to the @Jeopardy taping.”
Who will Boettcher take on next?
According to Jeopardy!‘s official lineup, she’ll face Matthew Swanson, a Phd student from California, and Liz Neal, a graphic designer from New York, on Tuesday.