On Monday, Emma Boettcher grabbed a small piece of television history, dethroning the “Jeopardy!” juggernaut James Holzhauer just as he was poised to break a longstanding record.
Boettcher was no one-game wonder. She won her next two games, making some think she might go on her own Holzhauer-esque streak.
But in the game that aired on Thursday, she finished third, closing the books on her run.
“Being on ‘Jeopardy!’ had to end sometime, and I’m not unhappy with the way it did,” she said in an interview. “It was just marvelous to be there.”
Boettcher, 27, a librarian at the University of Chicago, beat Holzhauer during the episode broadcast on Monday, preventing him from surpassing the $2.52 million Ken Jennings won during his record 74-game streak in 2004. Holzhauer departed with $2.46 million and commended Boettcher on a “world-beating performance.”
Before Final Jeopardy on Thursday, Boettcher was trailing the leading player, Brendan Roach, by only $200. But when the host, Alex Trebek, said the final clue had to do with “American music legends,” Boettcher said, she knew it would be difficult for her.
The final clue: Steinbeck called him “just a voice and a guitar” but said his songs embodied “the will of a people to endure and fight against oppression.”
All three contestants placed large bets, and Boettcher was the only one who answered incorrectly. She first wrote “Who is Bob Dylan?” before realizing it was one of the Guthries. She wasn’t sure which, so she crossed out Dylan’s name and wrote in “A. Guthrie,” but the correct response was Arlo’s father, Woody Guthrie.
Even if she had gotten it right, though, she would have lost because Roach, who works in speechwriting and communications at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in Cambridge, Mass., answered correctly and bid enough to cement his lead. Boettcher took home a $1,000 consolation prize to add to the $97,002 from her three victories.
“I knew I wasn’t going to go on a long streak,” Boettcher said. “If the categories worked out in my favor, then I could probably get through a couple more games. And that was a big if.”
Boettcher said in an email on Thursday that she had been nervous to be in the spotlight after the news broke that she had beaten Holzhauer. But she said she appreciated the outpouring of support from former “Jeopardy!” contestants, former teachers and “librarians near and far.”
On Tuesday, one of Boettcher’s colleagues at the University of Chicago brought in a cake designed to look like Monday’s “Jeopardy!” board, with sprinkles around each clue that Boettcher had answered correctly, she said.
Holzhauer’s 32-game streak, which stretched over two months, turned him into a national celebrity. He claims the top 16 spots for the most money won in one episode. As for Boettcher, she will be forever linked to Holzhauer in “Jeopardy!” lore, as Nancy Zerg is to Ken Jennings. (After defeating Jennings, Zerg lost the next game.)
Boettcher had never even heard Holzhauer’s name before she arrived at the “Jeopardy!” studio on March 12. She had not seen him play before she had to face him. (Holzhauer’s first win aired on April 4.)
During her second game, Boettcher bet all she had on a Daily Double clue, prompting Trebek to say, “Influenced by James, are we?” (Holzhauer made money at such a rapid pace partly because of his large bets.)
Fans noticed Boettcher’s quizzical reaction.
Boettcher said in an email on Thursday that she reacted that way because, at that moment, she had seen Holzhauer play only one game — the one he lost to her — and in that game he made relatively modest bets.
Boettcher said she knew to bet high from her years watching the show — not from watching Holzhauer in particular.
“I hadn’t had the opportunity to watch him yet,” she said. “I only wish my nerve hadn’t deserted me when I got Daily Doubles late in the game!”