Jeopardy Champion James Holzhauer Came Super-Close To Losing As A New Record Was Set

james holzhauer jeopardy

It's arguable that HBO's Game of Thrones is TV's biggest success right now, as its eighth and final season continues racking up viewers and inspiring conversations en masse. Somewhere just behind the cable epic, though, is Jeopardy! champion James Holzhauer, whose record-smashing streak has caused some rumors that the show could end up running out of money. Perhaps a sign that the end is nigh, Holzhauer came closer to defeat than ever, winning by less than $20 in Monday afternoon's game, which set yet another Jeopardy! record.

James Holzhauer Almost Loses

For Monday's contest, the resident champ and national superstar James Holzhauer faced off against Ashland, Massachusetts resident Adam Levin, who got as far as anyone else has in terms of taking over the Jeopardy! throne. (Sure, there was a third contestant for the sake of the telecast – Jasmine Leonas – but not so much for the sake of this story.) Levin, who works with the athletics department for Brandeis University, gave Holzhauer a run for his money and then some during his 18th straight game.

Adam Levin managed to keep his head above water through most of the episode by generally following in Holzhauer's footsteps, even if he couldn't match them perfectly. Levin even landed a big Daily Double late in the game, and as viewers of recent games are well aware, it's a rare sight for someone other than Holzhauer to get one of the wager-friendly clues. They have definitely played a big role in how the champion gets such remarkable leads as early as possible in each contest.

It all came down to the Final Jeopardy round, which marked the rare moment in James Holzhauer's run that a fellow contestant stopped it from being a complete runaway victory. (It was only the second time.) Adam Levin had $27,000 to Holzhauer's $33,517, for the category "Organizations," and both men got the correct answer.

Unfortunately for Adam Levin, though, he just didn't have enough money to conquer James Holzhauer's impressive win total. Levin bet everything but a dollar, bringing his second-place score to $53,999, while Holzhauer finished up with $54,017. That's right, a mere $18 or $19 is what separated Levin from taking Holzhauer down from his continuously rising mountain.

Who Set The New Record?

James Holzhauer's $54,017 victory was something of a low-earner for the champ, who already holds the highest single-game record with $131,127. (He also holds the top eight slots in that official ranking.) However, it was Adam Levin who managed to break a fairly unique record that, coincidentally enough, hadn't been touched since Jeopardy! legend Ken Jennings' hot streak.

With his $53,999 score, Levin reached the highest ever non-winning Jeopardy! score during non-tournament play. That's a lot of qualifying factors, but that just makes it all the more impressive in some ways. It's now officially the 21st highest final score of any Jeopardy! scores, with Holzhauer's own $54,017 score landing in the 20th spot on that list.

Previously, the record holder in this respect was Michael Cudahy, who ended his single game with a score of $44,400. It might have been enough in many other Jeopardy! games, but this was one where he was facing Ken Jennings, so it wasn't meant to be.

How Did Adam Levin Get So Close?

There are moments during James Holzhauer's Jeopardy! matches where other contestants seem to have lost the ability to speak, blink and/or think. However, Adam Levin was able to keep a good head on his shoulders throughout and got more than his fair share of correct answers. Speaking with the Boston Globe, Levin noted that when he was waiting to get called up for his own episode, he was able to sit in the audience to watch Holzhauer in action.

Such unplanned reconnaissance work, said Levin, was ultimately quite helpful. In his words:

I was able to note what he was doing and see how he was playing differently than ever seen before, and I was able to process that.

Talk about good fortune. Even if Adam Levin ultimately ended up losing, at least he exposed some of the wiring in James Holzhauer's game. It likely won't end up actually helping anyone beat him, unless he manages to outlast the current season and returns for the next. If that's the case, then there will likely be new contestants joining that are familiar with how Holzhauer plays.

At least Adam Levin came out of the experience with positive vibes, and isn't going on a rampage and joining up with online conspiracy theorists who believe that Holzhauer's streak is the result of cheating somewhere along the line. Rather, Levin can just as easily appreciate losing to a great as he can beating one.

Here's what else he had to say about it.

It gave me a couple of thoughts: I know I’m going to be good and have fun out there no matter what. And I guess if I win, I’m going to beat this guy who’s been winning a lot. And if I lose, then I will have lost to one of the best people to have played the game, so there’s no shame in that either. . . . I did everything I could possibly do and the best I could, and I was a few dollars short, but I wouldn’t trade it. I had a huge smile on my face for as much of the time I could, because I was living the dream.

A dream in which he only won $2,000 instead of becoming the new giant-slaying Jeopardy! champion, but a dream nonetheless.

Meanwhile, James Holzhauer's winning streak continues at a blistering clip. He has currently won a total of $1,39,604, having broken the million-dollar mark last week. Having won a total of 18 games so far, Holzhauer is just behind former champ David Madden, whose 19-game win streak currently has him locked in third place behind Julia Collins' 20-game run. There's a huge gap between Collins' 20 wins and Ken Jennings' 74 wins, but if there's anybody out there that stands a chance at crossing such depths, it's Holzhauer.

Jeopardy! is in its 35th season on the air, and has been celebrating the momentous anniversary throughout the year. The iconic game show airs in syndication, so be sure to check your local listings to see where it can be viewed in your area.

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native and an Assistant Managing Editor with a focus on TV and features. His humble origin story with CinemaBlend began all the way back in the pre-streaming era, circa 2009, as a freelancing DVD reviewer and TV recapper.  Nick leapfrogged over to the small screen to cover more and more television news and interviews, eventually taking over the section for the current era and covering topics like Yellowstone, The Walking Dead and horror. Born in Louisiana and currently living in Texas — Who Dat Nation over America’s Team all day, all night — Nick spent several years in the hospitality industry, and also worked as a 911 operator. If you ever happened to hear his music or read his comics/short stories, you have his sympathy.