Past competitors discuss Jeopardy James’ winning streak, shocking loss

By: Alex Szwarc, Mike Koury | C&G Newspapers | Published June 10, 2019

 Former “Jeopardy!” player and Ferndale resident Susannah Nichols said that part of her would have liked to have faced James Holzhauer, but she conceded that the 32-time champion likely would have “defeated me pretty easily.”

Former “Jeopardy!” player and Ferndale resident Susannah Nichols said that part of her would have liked to have faced James Holzhauer, but she conceded that the 32-time champion likely would have “defeated me pretty easily.”

File photo provided by Jeopardy Productions Inc.

 Sarah von Oeyen, a Clinton-Macomb Public Library adult services librarian, competed on “Jeopardy!” earlier this year and believes that she missed James Holzhauer by one day in filming the show.

Sarah von Oeyen, a Clinton-Macomb Public Library adult services librarian, competed on “Jeopardy!” earlier this year and believes that she missed James Holzhauer by one day in filming the show.

File photo provided by Jeopardy Productions Inc.

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FERNDALE/TROY/MACOMB TOWNSHIP — After winning 32 consecutive times on the TV game show “Jeopardy!,” James Holzhauer finally lost on his 33rd episode that aired on Monday, June 3.

Holzhauer, who earned the nickname “Jeopardy James” during his run, started his winning streak on the episode that aired April 4. He took home $2,464,216 in his 33 appearances on the show, making him third on the all-time “Jeopardy!” money list, including tournaments, behind Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings.

Sarah von Oeyen, of Troy, is a Clinton-Macomb Public Library adult services librarian and appeared as a “Jeopardy!” contestant on the March 28 episode, where she placed third. She works at the CMPL Main Branch on Romeo Plank Road in Clinton Township.

Von Oeyen believes that her episode taping took place one day before Holzhauer arrived on set.

“Ironically, I missed meeting him by one day,” she said.

“It was pretty insane to watch him do so well,” von Oeyen continued. “He employed strategies that were different from how others typically play. He managed to do it so well and so consistently.”

Susannah Nichols, a Ferndale resident and English teacher at Birmingham’s Roeper Upper School, competed in the “Jeopardy!” Teachers Tournament in 2017. She won the first episode she appeared on but lost the second, taking home $10,000 for making it to the semifinals of the tournament.

Nichols said she had been following Holzhauer’s progress on the show.

“In the first couple of games that I watched him play in, at first it’s easy to think that he’s just a really good game player, that he’s really quick on the buzzer and he’s willing to bet big, so that pays off for him, but I think what I was most impressed by was … just the depth of the guy’s knowledge is pretty incredible,” she said.

A key to Jeopardy James’ success, von Oeyen said, was his mastery of the buzzer and an incredible base of knowledge.

“With his gambling background, I think that was the unique element,” she said. “He wasn’t afraid to risk massive amounts of money.”

She added that most people who play the game are rather conservative.

“I suspect, as a professional gambler, he has learned not to think of it as real money, so he would have the confidence to make big bets,” von Oeyen said.

In watching Holzhauer’s style of play, Nichols said it requires a certain amount of brazenness to play that way, since it involves going after the harder clues first.

“It takes confidence to be willing to go for the harder questions first,” she said. “As far as the Daily Doubles go, I think that that’s also just a risk. Nobody remembers when we watch and we see people bet everything and then lose. I think that a lot of people try to play with that level of, kind of, confidence and bravery, but you have to get the right questions in, have the information to back it up. So I wasn’t necessarily surprised to see him try that strategy, but for it to be as successful for him to not get burned by it was really impressive.”

In Holzhauer’s losing episode, von Oeyen said that as someone who has been on the show, he made the smart bet in Final Jeopardy.

For Final Jeopardy, Holzhauer was in second place, trailing by $3,200. He wagered a modest $1,399. The eventual winner, Emma Boettcher, walked away with $46,801.

“Even in the end, I didn’t think that he ended up getting burned by his strategy,” said Nichols. “He just came up against a really good opponent who benefited from a lot of the same things that he’d been benefiting from in his earlier games.”

“It looked shockingly low to the casual viewer, but I’m almost certain it was the first time James had gone into Final Jeopardy in second position,” von Oeyen said. “It looked like a tiny amount because he was playing the odds for the ultimate chance to stay ahead.”

Folks were used to Holzhauer’s high bets, von Oeyen said. Boettcher, like von Oeyen, is a librarian.

“As much respect as I have for James, I was excited that when he lost, it was to a female librarian,” von Oeyen said. “I’m glad I didn’t have to go up against him. He’s been an interesting conversation starter.”

For those looking to be the next Holzhauer, von Oeyen’s advice is to watch the show regularly, adding that writers have written hundreds of thousands of questions, so folks can notice a theme after a while.

While part of Nichols would have liked the opportunity to go up against Holzhauer, she said she had no shame in admitting that he knows way more than she does, adding that the depth of his encyclopedic knowledge is “mind-boggling.”

“The other thing that I kept reminding myself of — and especially seeing all the people who he was playing against and who were losing to him — is in any other week or against any other set of opponents, they could’ve been ‘Jeopardy!’ champions themselves,” she said. “There is truth in that everybody who goes on ‘Jeopardy!’ is a worthy opponent and has a good shot of winning on a given day. Part of me would’ve liked to have a chance to compete against him, but I think I’m humble enough to say that he probably would’ve defeated me pretty easily.”

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