James Holzhauer extended his “Jeopardy!” winning streak to 23 consecutive games Monday, banking $89,229 for a grand total of $1,780,237.
The University of Illinois grad (“I attended class as little as necessary”) pulled off his latest win as the enduring game show returned from a two-week hiatus from regular gameplay to air the annual Teachers Tournament — and not everyone is cheering him on.
The 34-year-old professional gambler is so polarizing that he has inspired a legion of “Holzhauer haters” accusing him of ruining the game with his big-money wagers and unemotional poker face. (Basically the opposite of real sports, where fans say flash and flamboyance have ruined the essence of the games).
But there is one guy waving the giant foam finger for him: Ken Jennings. The 74-time “Jeopardy!” champion earned a virtual bronze bust in the quiz show hall of fame next to Alex Trebek when he went on a mind-boggling victory tear in 2004.
He’s written an op-ed in the Washington Post to explain why he supports the guy nipping at his heels. In short, watching the sports bettor plow through his competition is like watching history. It’s the ”equivalent of a basketball player notching 70-point games for an entire season or a baseball player hitting for the cycle in every game,” Jennings writes.
“I’m the only person alive who knows firsthand how difficult it is to do what Holzhauer is doing, and that’s why I’m rooting him on,” Jennings adds. “I may hold a bunch of ‘Jeopardy!’ records, but at heart I’m just a fan of the show. And for any real ‘Jeopardy!’ fan, this streak is something special.”
Upon reading Jennings’ supportive words Sunday, Holzhauer tweeted: “Alright, I’ve had two weeks to practice trash talk and so has Ken. Let’s do some bodybagging.”
Holzauer’s $1.78 million tally isn’t too far from Jennings’ $2.5 million cash haul. The current record-holder, however, says there is one variable that he never had to contend with while on the show in the early aughts.
“I count my blessings that I own at least one ‘Jeopardy!’ distinction that Holzhauer can’t touch: I appeared on the show before the dawn of social media,” Jennings says.
Holzhauer has been met every night by a barrage of hot takes about his streak: He’s “broken the game.” He’s “ruined the show.” He’s “unfair” to his competitors, or “boring” to watch. Even WaPo’s own op-ed page previously called him a “menace to ‘Jeopardy!,’” evoking mental images of angry newspaper editor J. Jonah Jameson from the Spider-Man movies: “Bring me pictures of James Holzhauer!”
“Jeopardy!” airs weekdays at 7 p.m. ET on CBS.
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