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Noteworthy game show contestants can often achieve their 15 minutes of fame in one way or another, but recent Jeopardy! champ James Holzhauer became a pure phenom during his 32-game win streak. His brazen board-jumping and high-level wagers constantly kept viewers (and contestants and Alex Trebek) on edge, and Holzhauer also earned some of the show's highest ratings in years. But just because everyone was watching him, does it mean his influence will actually change how Jeopardy! is played?
It's certainly possible, but the all-time #2 winner James Holzhauer himself doesn't really think his winning streak will cause a tectonic shift in traditional Jeopardy! gameplay. In his words:
I think among the people who know me best I'll go back to being James or Uncle Jamie to my nephews and nieces, but I think there will always be a segment of the population who doesn't forget about this. I don't think I've changed the game of Jeopardy forever, but I'll have to watch future episodes to see if everyone is playing this style now.
A lot of people might sound boastful when saying something like this, but James Holzhauer is just being as logical as he was during 98% of the many games he appeared on. The fact that Ken Jennings is still a household name 15 years after his own record-breaking Jeopardy! streak is a good sign that Holzhauer has already carved out a permanent notch for himself in game show fanatics' memories. (If his "all in" Daily Double motion hasn't already been turned into a viral video dance, I don't know down from up.)
In any case, James Holzhauer doesn't automatically believe that his statistically sound gameplay style will change the way that Jeopardy! contestants approach their time on the show. On the one hand, I can believe that.
After all, recent years have seen several champions such as Arthur Chu and Austin Rogers utilize the "Forrest Bounce" seeking out Daily Doubles for big wagers, but their influences weren't so strong that everyone kept doing it afterward. Even if someone is smart enough to make it onto Jeopardy!, that doesn't necessarily mean that person is confident enough to make big wagers in Double Jeopardy and Final Jeopardy. Some are always going to play it as safe as possible.
On the other hand, James Holzhauer was not only able to voice his strategies for winning the game, but he put them in action on a regular basis, proving by all means that the reward is nearly always worth the risk if there is comfort with the subject matter. So even if most players don't end up jumping all over the game board to seek out optimal clues, I have a sneaking suspicion that audiences will see more "true" Daily Doubles in Season 36 and beyond.
Okay, maybe not so much in the Teen Tournament that's coming, but elsewhere.
For anyone assuming that James Holzhauer went into Jeopardy! with the unshakable confidence of a gambling pro, that wasn't exactly the case. He figured he'd do well, but not to the extent that he succeeded. Here's how he put it to Las Vegas' KLAS:
I did expect to do pretty well when I was on the show, but I thought maybe I could win maybe six, seven episodes; certainly not 32, and certainly not this level of money. Gosh, it was really mind-blowing. If I had to go out, I wanted to go out against a top player who beat me in a straight up contest.
In the end, James Holzhauer got his wish for his final regular game, in which he lost to contestant Emma Boettcher after a surprisingly low wager in that game's Final Jeopardy. As he'd explained following the show's airing, his bet was driven by math and was completely dependent on Boettcher getting the answer wrong, which she did not.
If nothing else, James Holzhauer's low wager might actually help further influence future contestants to stick with higher wagers, lest they go out in a similar blaze of glory. But as Holzhauer put it, we'll just have to wait and see what happens. I fully expect him to cause a new wave of interest whenever he returns for the Tournament of Champions later this year, and I'm holding out hope for a Holzhauer vs. Jennings iron-man match at some point.
Jeopardy! airs weekdays in syndication, so be sure to check your local listings to see when and where it's playing in your area.