He scored big with a Daily Double clue about the first multipurpose charge card. After a commercial break, she hunted down the next Daily Double, a clue about the film that made Kathryn Bigelow the first woman to win an Oscar for directing. (The answers are below.)
Much of the game that aired on Friday played out as a fierce back-and-forth between James Holzhauer, the sports bettor from Las Vegas who dominated “Jeopardy!” for 32 straight games earlier this year, and Emma Boettcher, the librarian from Chicago who had unseated him as champion.
By the end of the game, Boettcher had whittled down Holzhauer’s big early lead, but not by enough. He took first place in the show’s Tournament of Champions and the grand prize of $250,000; she was runner-up, winning $100,000. Francois Barcomb, a high school physics teacher from New Paltz, N.Y., was third, winning $50,000.
Holzhauer, 35, said in an email that he didn’t view the tournament as a “chance for redemption,” but many of his loyal fans were eager to see him come out on top after the loss in June that prevented him from surpassing the $2.52 million Ken Jennings won during his record 74-game winning streak in 2004.
“It became clear that Emma and Francois were the two toughest players in the field,” Holzhauer said, “so I knew the final would be a slugfest.”
Holzhauer captivated “Jeopardy!” fans starting in April with his dominant strategy and high-value bets. He set the record for the most money won in a single episode and then surpassed that total three more times. Holzhauer seemed poised to beat Jennings’s record before Boettcher picked up the buzzer and put her own skill on display.
Boettcher, 27, studied meticulously for her first appearances on “Jeopardy!,” keeping a notebook with her scores from playing along with the show at home. For this month’s tournament, she tried to study up on categories she knew she was weaker at, like pop and folk music. (Boettcher lost her fourth game in June because of a Final Jeopardy clue for which the correct response was Woody Guthrie.)
Boettcher said in an interview that her favorite moments on the “Jeopardy!” stage were not the clues that she studied hard to get right but the ones that reminded her where and when she learned the piece of trivia.
“I know some of them because I’ve studied, but more often I’ll know them because of a person or a conversation I’ve had,” she said. “There’s a clue about Bernoulli that I got and I know that primarily because I remember my dad trying to explain it to my sister and me when we were little.”
(The clue: “This Swiss mathematician’s principle says the pressure in a fluid moving horizontally decreases as its velocity increases.”)
In the Tournament of Champions, recent big winners on “Jeopardy!” face off against one another. Close watchers of the show had debated online whether Boettcher’s winnings earlier this year, which amounted to just under $100,000, were low for a champions contestant, and some speculated that the show chose her for the potential ratings bump that would come with a rematch. But her victories in the first two rounds of the tournament, which began with 15 players, quieted any doubts.
Boettcher said that she was indeed surprised about being chosen for the tournament, but that she didn’t pay attention to the commentary. “At that point I was focused on studying,” she said.
Holzhauer said that the backlash against Boettcher had “little to do with her merits as a player” and that he thought sexism was a factor.
“Also there seems to be some resentment from fans who are upset that she took me off the show," he added.
The final round of the tournament played out over two games. Holzhauer won the first by $23,000 and Boettcher won the second by $11,000, giving Holzhauer the overall victory. (They took home their prize money, but not the dollar totals won during the final games.)
Holzhauer’s $250,000 first prize bumped his total winnings on the show to $2.7 million. That still situates him well behind Brad Rutter, who garnered $4.7 million in all-time winnings, including tournaments; and Jennings, who won $3.4 million. Holzhauer has the potential to add to his winnings if he appears in future all-star games.
“I will definitely be back on the ‘Jeopardy!’ stage, if they’ll have me,” Holzhauer said. “It might be sooner than you think.”
(Answers: What is Diners Club? What is “The Hurt Locker”?)