What it’s like to lose to unstoppable ‘Jeopardy!’ champion James Holzhauer

“Jeopardy!” is generally taped weeks or months ahead of airtime, with producers staging five consecutive games in a single day. So new contestants typically have no idea who the defending champion is until they arrive on set. For some players, it dawned on them what was happening as they observed the taping of the day’s first games, waiting for their own turn to play.

Kevin Bohannon, game 8: The producer said, “So James, tell them how much you won.” He said, “$415,000.” We all went, “WHAT?!” That was shocking. I would describe the mood in the room at the point as almost relief. It was almost comical. Maybe that’s just how I was interpreting it — the inevitability of what we were facing became apparent. But I don’t think we understood how quickly he got that amount of money.

Mike Dindoffer, game 7: [When Holzhauer won $110,914 in his fourth game.] You could hear the audible gasp from the audience. . . it was like the sound of the soul escaping the body.

Satish Chandrasekhar, game 2: I knew he was a pretty strong competitor, but I didn’t know he was at the level he is now. I think it really hit me when I saw him play his first game . . . he just crushed it from start to finish.

Lorelle Anderson, game 10: I knew we had the returning champ and how much money he won, but didn’t know what he was like until I saw that first game. My expectations just adjusted dramatically. I was like, “Okay, I see how it is, alright then!”

Claudia Walters, game 14: They said, “Here’s our returning champion, James, he’s won 12 games so far.” And you’re sitting there nodding and thinking, “Oh wow, that’s cool, maybe he’s going to be a Buzzy Cohen or Austin Rogers.” Then they said, “He has [$851,926].” I pulled out my calculator . . . and kept staring at it: He’s averaging over $70,000 a game. This is nuts! This is something no one has ever seen before. This is a different kind of “Jeopardy!” and you have no idea what you’re up against.

Hannah Pierson-Compeau, game 10: I kept thinking, “Come on, somebody beat him, somebody beat this guy so I can play somebody else!”

Samantha Merwin, game 11: For my game, it feels different watching it back — it didn’t feel as dramatic as it looks. The Double Jeopardy round was when it was like, “This is crazy.”

Matthew Amster-Burton, game 3: One $2,000 clue was about the lead singer of the Pixies. I’m a huge Pixies fan . . . I thought, “I’ve got this.” But then he beat me to the buzzer. You can see me in the side of the frame, throwing up my hands like, “What is going on?!”


The game moves so quickly that some players remain oblivious to the dollar amounts being amassed. It’s not until a break in the action that they notice how much Holzhauer has racked up — and for many, that brought a sense of doom.

Lewis Black, game 6: Any other day, any other opponent, the results might have been different, but you just happen to get there and run headfirst into a buzzsaw.

Amster-Burton: At the end of single “Jeopardy!” I thought maybe I could win. But soon as he got the first Daily Double in Double Jeopardy, he bet a lot, and I was like, “Okay, this is over.”

Alex Koral, game 1: I hoped he would start missing questions . . . and then in the Double Jeopardy round it was sort of like — you see the writing on the wall.


Holzhauer’s run of episodes started filming in February, so he and his competitors had to keep their secret for weeks; for them, it has been amusing to see the rest of the world catch up to the Holzhauer phenomenon. A common thing for contestants to hear: “If it wasn’t for that guy, you could have won!”

Walters:It’s been the strangest thing to become famous for when you lose.

Bohannon: Everyone wants to know about his personality, they want to know, “Is he a robot, does he ever smile?” The truth is, he’s not a robot, he does smile, he’s having fun up there.

Dindoffer: People thinks he comes off robotic. But truthfully, I think he’s trying to play the gambler strategy, not reveal too much and keep moving.

Kevin Donohue, game 14: My dad emailed me, “On an ordinary show, you would have been up there.” Obviously, with James, ordinary no longer applies to “Jeopardy!”

Merwin: A lot of people knew when my air date was and they did the math: “Oh my gosh, are you going to face that guy?!” . . . then a lot of people were like, “You did really well, sorry you had to go up against that!”

Black: People would watch and I would get comments like, “Wait, do you have to go up against that guy?” “Uh — yeah.”

Anderson: My mother said the whole thing was rigged.

My dad emailed me, “On an ordinary show, you would have been up there.” Obviously, with James, ordinary no longer applies to “Jeopardy!”

Merwin: A lot of people knew when my air date was and they did the math: “Oh my gosh, are you going to face that guy?!” . . . then a lot of people were like, “You did really well, sorry you had to go up against that!”

Black: People would watch and I would get comments like, “Wait, do you have to go up against that guy?” “Uh — yeah.”

Anderson: My mother said the whole thing was rigged.


Competitors expressed admiration for Holzhauer, an affable guy who made friendly conversation in the greenroom between rounds of steamrolling over everyone on set. And hey, only 400 people make it on the show of the roughly 85,000 people who take the online “Jeopardy!” test. So just being there is a huge accomplishment.

Donohue: James is 100 percent amazing. It has been really fun to see him take all of the best pieces of “Jeopardy!” players and combine them into a master strategy. . . . It’s kind of the best of both worlds: You either take down a machine, or you’re just one more person that loses to a guy who is incredible at this game.

Koral: I did have mixed feelings: From a sour-grapes perspective, I wanted him to lose right away . . . but then I hoped he would be some sort of once-in-a-lifetime monster at the game and people would say, “It took that type of person to beat him.”

Amster-Burton: I did not go to “Jeopardy!” expecting to win. It’s an honor to play, and it was a great story to be beaten by the best of the best.

Walters: While it would have been cool to win, it is also very cool to be part of “Jeopardy!” history.

Chandrasekhar: James and I were talking about what great competition we were for each other. I told him I’m rooting for him and hope he goes far — the better he does, the better I look in comparison.

Black: I got to be on “Jeopardy!,” shake hands with Alex Trebek and be an extremely minor footnote in the history of the show. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

The Class Struggle According to Donald Trump

the fact that a worker’s wealth and well-being is much more dependent upon her employer than the employer is on a given worker tilts things in the employer’s favor.

.. Two trends demonstrate the decline of labor and the ascent of business. Since 1979, after-tax corporate profits as a share of gross domestic product have grown by 22.8 percent, while the share of nonfarm business sector income going to labor has dropped by 10.3 percent.

The decline in worker bargaining power in the United States is the cumulative effect of numerous small and large changes over recent decades reaching into almost every area of law and policy. This combines with a decline in the enforcement of existing laws that could protect workers’ bargaining power — laws protecting unions, laws against wage theft, nondiscrimination laws, and more.

.. Among these changes is the requirement that employees sign what are known as “noncompete” and “no-raid” agreements, both of which restrict workers’ ability to extract pay hikes by threatening to take similar jobs at competing companies.

.. “less than half of workers who have non-competes also report possessing trade secrets.”

When entry-level workers at fast food restaurants are asked to sign two-year non-competes, it becomes less plausible that trade secrets are always the primary motivation for such agreements.

.. The treasury report estimated that 30 million American workers have signed noncompete agreements.

.. 94 percent of the net employment growth in the U.S. economy from 2005 to 2015 appears to have occurred in alternative work arrangements.

The growing emphasis on “shareholder value” has provided additional justification for all of these anti-worker developments.

.. “the shareholder value movement starting in the late 1980s and now institutionalized through industry analysts” was crucially important in the devaluation of employees:

.. Accounting in business is mainly about costs. Finance people hate fixed costs because of the challenges they raise to share price valuation when there is uncertainty, and the biggest fixed costs are labor. Simply moving the same labor costs from employees to outside staffing companies moves it from one part of the accounting ledger to another and makes analysts happier.

This mentality, in turn, encourages “the use of temps and contractors” to fill high-wage jobs because “that way the employer doesn’t have to raise wages for all their employees.”

.. Companies could outsource work to areas with cheaper labor and less of a union presence. This both weakened the union and ramped up competitive pressure on the companies that were unionized. The result was fewer unions.

.. In 2017, 6.5 percent of the private sector work force was unionized, down from 35 percent in 1955.

.. The contemporary weakness of organized labor and the threatened status of employees has roots in the breakdown in the 1970s of the postwar capital-labor accord — what A.H. Raskin, the legendary labor reporter for The Times, called a “live-and-let-live relationship” that held sway for 30 years.

.. First, they would alter antitrust enforcement to require consideration of the likely effect of mergers on concentration in the labor market, in order to prevent “too high a risk of wage suppression.”

.. Second, Krueger and Posner would support legislation making noncompete agreements “uniformly unenforceable and banned if they govern a worker who earns less than the median wage in her state.”

.. ban no-poaching arrangements altogether:

We propose a per se rule against no-poaching agreements regardless of whether they are used outside or within franchises. In other words, no-poaching agreements would be considered illegal regardless of the circumstances of their use.

.. In the 2016 election, Trump profited from the conviction of rural and working-class voters that they were on a downward trajectory. If anything, Trump appears to be gambling that letting those voters’ lives continue to languish will work to his advantage in 2020.

.. His administration has turned the executive branch, the federal courts and the regulatory agencies into the sworn enemy of workers, organized and unorganized. Trump is indisputably indifferent to the plight of anyone in the bottom half of the income distribution:

  • look at his appointments,
  • look at his record in office,
  • look back at his business career and
  • look at the man himself.

An 82-year-old man hiked the entire Appalachian Trail. Then he danced a jig.

Sanders, 82, officially became the oldest person to hike the entire 2,190-mile trail in a year.

.. A naturally gregarious person, Sanders had periods of depression while alone on the trail. He was helped by what he calls “trail angels,” people who recognized him from seeing him on the Internet, who called out his trail name — “Grey Beard” — and hiked alongside him for a stretch

.. During the hike, he wore a tracker so people at home could locate his position. He fell “about 100 times” along the rocky, mountainous trail, but only the Kinsman Mountain fall was serious.

.. Sanders takes 30-inch steps, so he figures he took 4,625,256 steps for the hike.