Monday, April 22, 2019

The most fun show on TV

Forget the NBA Playoffs, the Stanley Cup, or the start of the baseball season. Who cares about the Emmy race or Democratic hopefuls for president? Yawn on the next American Idol and VOICE winner. There’s a new competition in town that’s sweeping the nation.

James Holzhauer on JEOPARDY!

Have you seen this guy? In only twelve days he’s racked up over $850,000. (That's almost as much as Mike Trout makes.)  James has shattered the all-time one-day total three or four times already. It’s like if this new prospect joined the Yankees named Clark Kent.

Not only does he have an otherworldly knowledge of everything, he has super quick recall. And he’s a professional sports gambler by trade so it’s common when he lands on DAILY DOUBLES to push all his chips into the center and go for it. I mean, sure, I could do that, but only if the topic was “Natalie Wood” but he does it on “Pleistocene Era Children's Literature,” “Fifteen-letter words with u in them twice,”and "Lana Wood."

He’s extraordinary to watch. If I went on that show and they told me the answers an hour beforehand I still couldn’t retain all that information by the time the cameras were rolling.

JEOPARDY has always been a great game show. It moves fast, it’s smart, and has the perfect host in Alex Trebek. (He can pronounce difficult words and names – although who knows if he’s right?) Certainly, it’s bittersweet now watching JEOPARDY because we know of Alex’s medical condition and our hearts go out to him. (By the way, Alex was so good on the CHEERS episode he appeared on that we wrote him into another scene – the final scene in the bar. He can deliver clues and jokes.)

But now with Holzhauer it’s off the charts fun to watch the show. And unlike a TV series you get a new episode five times a week instead of once a week. And you get open-ended new episodes, not just thirteen in a row.

It’s also easy to root for Holzhauer because he seems like a good guy. He’s very low-key. Ken Jennings is still my favorite due to his sense of humor ("What be Ebonics?"), but James H. has an easy-going charm that (like everything else about him) is “winning.”

Like I said he’s a professional sports gambler from Las Vegas so most of his winnings will eventually go to the government and Caesar’s Palace.

Now the big question is can he top Ken Jennings’ record of winning 74 consecutive times? I think the old record was 20. And unlike “cash amounts” James can’t accomplish that in five days. So we may be in for an exciting ride for the next few months.

Holzhauer is rarely wrong. If he doesn’t know an answer he doesn’t ring in. And one day last week the answer (or question, excuse me) was “What is Final Draft?” (the screenplay writing program). And he didn’t ring in. I knew something James Holzhauer didn’t. HA! BAM! Mic drop!


Matt said...

“Archibald Leach, Bernard Schwartz, Lucille LaSueur.” See if he an answer that one.

Tommy Raiko said...

Ken Jennings himself gave a shout out to Holzhauer on Twitter, admiring both his betting strategy and that he has the knowledge to back it up. I dunno. On some level, it pleases me to think that Jeopardy alums cheer each other on...

Ben Scripps said...

He won't break Ken's 74-game record for one simple reason: his tendency to bet big on Daily Doubles. He's good--really, really good--but not perfect, and one of these times, he'll bet big, they'll spin that graphic around, and it will be one he doesn't know. It's happened at least once already, where he bet everything and missed and dropped to $0, but it was in the first round, so he had time to build his score back up. But at some point he'll go all-in on the first DD in round 2 and miss, then one of his opponents will stumble upon the second Daily Double and he'll lose his opportunity to jump out to an insurmountable lead.

But if I were standing in a book in Vegas, I wouldn't bet against him.

Paul B said...

He figured out that instead of starting with the low value easy questions, letting all players ease into a high stress unfamiliar routine, he whacks off all the $1000 questions before the new players can catch their breath. Add that to his knowledge skill and gambling fearlessness, he usually has the game out of reach as soon as he nails a daily double in double jeopardy. For final jeopardy, he risks close to the maximum that will still guarantee the win if he misses. Since he usually doesn't miss, he racks up incredibly high daily winnings. He's very smart and has great gamesmanship, a deadly combination. May keep going until show airing delay (months!) exposes his strategy to new contestants. Even then, he'll be tough to stop.

Y. Knott said...

I'm entirely the opposite. I watch the show regularly, but when a Jeopardy contestant has won more than a few games in a row, I completely tune out. I just lose interest altogether. Who needs to see Mike Trout play single-A ball when he should be in the bigs, and who needs to see a Jeopardy champion playing outside of the Tournament of Champions?

Obviously, not everyone feels this way, but I haven't watched the show in a few days, and probably won't be watching for a while.

gottacook said...

In some ways I preferred the era (the first 15? years of Alex Trebek's run as host) when any contestant had to retire after winning five games, thereby qualifying for that season's Tournament of Champions.

Stephen Marks said...

Alex: And Ken you have control

Ken: On The Waters for 200, please

Alex: The answer, This privately owned vessel was where Robert Wagner struck Natalie Wood, rendering her unconscious, he then placed her body in the frigid waters, untied a rubber dingy and gave it kick, making the whole thing look like an accidental drowning.

Ken: What is the Splendour!

Alex: Correct, continue

Ken: On The Waters for 300

Alex: Located off the coast of California, it is perhaps best known for being the location where Robert Wagner struck Natalie Wood, rendering her unconscious, he then placed her body in the frigid waters, untied a rubber dingy and gave it a kick, making the whole thing look like an accidental drowning.

Ken: What are the Catalina Islands

Alex: Correct, continue

Ken: On The Waters for 400

Alex: The answer, this smaller vessel is usually attached to a bigger boat and is normally used as a decoy after you place a murder victim into frigid waters!

Ken: What is a rubber dingy

Alex: Correct, continue

Ken: On The Waters for 500

Alex: The answer, the Daily Double, how much you want to wager?

Ken: All of it, $67,000

Alex: This will take you to $134,000 if you get it. She starred in Miracle On 34th St., Splendor In The Grass and Rebel Without A Cause, receiving an Oscar nomination each time. Married to Robert Wagner, she also had a famous sister, Lana Wood. Sadly, she died of an accidental drowning off the coast of Catalina in 1974.

Ken: Wow, I thought I knew this until you said "accidental drowning"

Alex: Hurry, please

Ken: Um, "accidental drowning" eh, um, are you sure that was the official cause of death Alex? Seems implausible to me. Um, okay, well, who is Carol Wayne!

Alex: Noooooo, I"m sorry, that's not what we're looking for and that takes down you to zero. We were looking for Natalie Wood

Ken: What? She didn't drown, that's ridiculous!

Alex: And that's all the time we have, see you tomorrow

Ken: This is bullshit! You owe me $134,000 pal!

Roy DeRousse said...

I feel bad for his opponents. Presumably, they are smart people and good Jeopardy! players. This is their big chance... except that it really isn't with James playing. My wife and I think that there should be a tournament for all of the losers after James is finished so that they could play "for real."

Rich D said...

True fact - Any time Trebec mispronounced a word or name that mispronunciation automatically becomes the new accepted way to say that word or name.

Chris said...

I'm with Y.Knott. While I enjoy the IDEA of this guy and the way he manipulates the game, I find him very off-putting and not charming in the least. Stephen Sondheim wrote a song called "Can That Boy Foxtrot" which was cut from FOLLIES. Replace the word "foxtrot" with the words "play Jeopardy" and you've got this guy. Reptilian about sums it up.

Buttermilk Sky said...

"Who are Cary Grant, Tony Curtis and Joan Crawford?"

He's very good, but I wish he'd stop adding cute messages to his Final Jeopardy answers. There used to be an FCC rule against using the airwaves for private communications, but I guess it has gone the way of the Fairness Doctrine.

ODJennings said...

At least he understands that he's there to win money. It drives me crazy when contestants stumble across a Daily Double and fail to take advantage of it. How many times a month does Alex tell them that if they make it a true Daily Double they can tie for the lead or at least get back in the game only to have them make some meaningless $1000 bet? Don't they realize he's trying to give them good advice? Instead, they're so afraid they won't be around for Final Jeopardy that they don't take the necessary risks required to have a shot at winning.

My only problem with him is that he's beaten several interesting players who would probably have won against almost anyone else. I wish they would take the top scoring non-winners every season and have a tournament with them. It would be much more interesting than that silly Kid's Tournament.

Frank Beans said...

For me, the show will forever be Alex Trebeck with a mustache and a grey suit, with the blaring blue background on the screen. And there's SNL's "Celebrity Jeopardy" and the more recent "Black Jeopardy", which to be honest I'll probably remember just as well.

I've heard interviews with Ken Jennings, notably on the Savage Lovecast, and he's insightful and funny. Maybe this guy will get the same kind of fame.

D McEwan said...

Yeah, I've gotten caught up watching this guy, but I tune in each day with "Hopefully this is the day we're rid of this guy." Frankly, I find him a bit creepy. I find that that recessive smirk he always wears makes my skin crawl. "Professional Gambler" is not exactly a "Profession" I respect. That's like "Professional Adrenalin Junkie." What does it do to help other people? What service does he provide or product of benefit to people does his "Professional Gambling" produce? Guys who seem like modern day versions of Damon Runyon characters may be good in a story, but not in real life. Every time he says things like "Now the bookies won't take my action," I'm all "Ew."

I am so not a gambler. Never placed a bet in my life. Never play poker (or any card games). Never bought a lottery ticket. Never been to the track. Never set foot in a casino. I avoid Vegas like the plague. (The last time I was in Vegas, it was for 45 minutes, a quarter of a century ago, to change planes, and I still resented Vegas befouling a trip that had included London, Paris, Nice, Cannes and Monaco, a group Vegas was not worthy to join. Drove by the casino in Monte Carlo, did not go in.) Life is more than enough of a gamble as it is.

Holzhauer's strategy of going for all the big cash questions first, working the board horizontally instead of the traditional vertically, is brilliant. Wonder why it took so many decades for someone to use it.

And Matt, yes, he'd get the correct question for “Archibald Leach, Bernard Schwartz, Lucille LaSueur." He constantly knows incredibly obscure stuff, so something that is as easy as that one, a bit of movie trivia as widely known to all classic movie fans as that one would be zero challenge to him.

Wayne C said...

The questions/answers seem to be easier than they used to be, not that it takes anything away from him, but I can usually answer most of the questions quickly, as well, which doesn't make me a genius, it just means I've accumulated lots of superficial information. His skill seems to be more in the timing of using the buzzer, and his cutthroat approach to finding daily doubles, which are also usually obvious answers.

Mike Bloodworth said...

Sure, he's good on "Jeopardy," but how would he do on "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?" But seriously, maybe it's time to bring back WATSON to shut down this guy.
Finally, I knew you were old, Ken. But I didn't realize you were "JEOPARDY" old. Do you watch "Wheel" too?

YEKIMI said...

Warning: RANT! Used to watch Jeopardy every day until, #1, digital TV became a reality, #2, it switched to a channel that I can no longer pick up over the air. Again, I don't have cable and will not have cable until I am able to pick the channels I want. When Rectum cable tells me I have to pay for literally a lineup of channels that are religious and infomercials [and last time I checked it was about 8 of those channels], no thanks. When digital began the channel that Jeopardy moved to couldn't even be picked up in the city I lived at the time OTA and when they added a repeater antenna, which was three miles from my house, I still couldn't get them. So for now I just have to read about the exploits of Jeopardy online and I've watched Jeopardy since the days of Art Fleming.

Roger Owen Green said...

As a one-day champ myself, I agree with your guests that I actively root against EVERYONE after their 5th win.

Anonymous said...

Off subject but...
I read that law suits and legal apers are flying in the WGA's attempt to get justice for it's members.
Any new updates as to where "we" are on this?

Cap'n Bob said...

Am I the only one who thinks this guy looks like Ed Grimley's brother?

BTW, I knew the Grant/Curtis/Crawford answers, too.

D McEwan said...

Well, Yekimi, you don't want cable, fine. But why bitch at us? You have your rant. I have Jeopardy and Game of Thrones and lots of great classic TV to watch, because I'm fine with my cable line-up. And when I want to modify it, Spectrum it does while I'm on the phone with them, no problem. I get my phone and my internet from them also.

Tom said...

It may be a good strategy for winning a lot of money, but jumping around makes for an unpleasant TV watching experience, at least for me. Viewers haven't memorized the categories, so when the contestant just barks out something like "Lakes, Four!" the question has been asked and answered before we at home can even remember the categories. I'd love to see the faces on contestants if the show did questions like "The president who followed the one in the previous answer." Or "the state just to the south of the previous answer." And scatter Daily Doubles more widely, like in the first or second spaces, to give players more incentive to start at the top.

therealshell said...

Look up Trebek and REACH FOR THE TOP.He has been on telly asking questions since I was in short pants.

MikeN said...

Dan Patrick hosts Sports Jeopardy on CRACKLE.

Andy Rose said...

@Tom: While they never have a clue that absolutely requires knowledge of a previous clue, there are lots of categories with deliberately vague or pun-filled names where the joke is made clear only in the first clue. And every once in a while, two succeeding clues are related.

If it really bothered the producers of the show that much, they could just change the rules and allow contestants to choose the category only, automatically going to the least valuable clue in that category. But I guess it doesn't bother them too much.

Tom Galloway said...

Here's the bit about him. His professional sports gambler mindset is what sets him apart from other great J! players (btw, pre-Ken, the record was either 5 or just a few over 5 wins. Second place since is Julia Collins with 20. Ken himself is surprised no one's gotten closer in the last decade plus). He's looking at it as wagering, say, 50,000 units, not as 50,000 dollars which Ken and other past uber-champs have thought of it. He also understands basic wagering game theory and what a strong player can do against weaker (in some sense of the word; read on) players with respect to falling behind in Single J! due to a missed DD and recovering after.

Otherwise, he's your basic very strong player. He's definitely up there for knowledge; there's an annual trivia convention in Vegas that attracts a fair number of strong J! players (last summer, for example, I had the experience of losing in quiz bowl to a team with both Brad Rutter and Pam Mueller on it). I've not met him there that I recall, but he has won the "This is basically Jeopardy! but we can't call it that" event in two years.

And like other strong players, he prepped seriously for it. In addition to studying, he focused on getting his buzzer timing down and being fast on it, including using a book a former ToC champ friend of mine wrote on the topic. He's also using the known in trivia circles strategies the best players over the years have used.

As mentioned, his strategy is risky. It's optimized for winning large amounts and having confidence that your buzzer skills exceed the other players. When he has a bad DD day against a player who knows to bet like he's been doing, there's a decent chance it'll be his last day. But his buzzer skills also have a decent chance of pulling out a more normal win for him.

Btw, if he played Watson under the same rules and setup as Brad and Ken (who I've the pleasure of meeting several times and think is a nice, funny, and sharp guy), he'd lose. That's because as set up, Watson was effectively cheating. Since it couldn't hear or see, it received an electronic signal when its buzzer unlocked at the end of a clue and it could trigger its mechanical button pusher. This meant that unlike a human, it would *never* buzz in early, and if it thought it knew the correct response, it'd instantly and correctly hit its buzzer. Unlike humans. A fair game would've had random lags used as obtained from Ken and Brad's average response times and their variance.

Tom Galloway said...

Also, Ken and other folk might be interested in this article from the latest Los Angeles Magazine on the Santa Monica pub quiz where lots of past J! players and champs go. Written by Jackie Fuchs, who you may recall as relatively recent multi-day J! champ (and early member of the Runaways), it's a nice piece that relates the camaraderie among former J! players and other trivia buffs. I've had the pleasure of playing there twice when visiting LA (in fact, once on the same team as Jackie) and very much enjoyed both the experience and the people.

Barry Traylor said...

Not only does this guy have a remarkable memory for trivia he really knows how to play the game. Does not waste a second and has quick reflexes. Also know how to take a chance.

Mike Barer said...

I think GE College Bowl would be a great reboot. Colleges and Universities competing at what the purpose of attending the institution was in the first place.

Anonymous said...

I was so proud last night. I knew "ashram" and James didn't. Small victory.

Douglas Trapasso said...

Maybe a long time fan can answer this one for me:

In OG Jeopardy! hosted by Art Fleming, were contestants allowed to jump around categories or were they required to work top to bottom?

Don R said...

Sorry. Just not fun to watch a human buzz-saw take the excitement out of a Jeopardy show. Felt the same way about Ken and Austin. It's not really a game when one contestant has triple the winnings of the others going into Double Jeopardy and they have no chance of catching him in Final Jeopardy. In a couple of games it looked like the other contestants were ready to give up, and that's not entertaining, just sad. I won't be watching until James is gone.

Rich Shealer said...

I like Jeopardy, but I rarely actually watch it. I'm recording it again, probably the first time since the Watson matches and then Ken Jennings before.

I think that he will be able to control the game for a while because the other contestants have no idea what they are up against. If the streak extends until next season he will probably have a bit more competition since he will be a known commodity then. I don't know if the other players get to watch the matches of the day, meaning that game #1 is cold for all and by game #5 the players have seen the previous four.

I've noticed that he saves some board time by interrupting Alex after a correct response. This is probably most notable in the first half of round one. I think they are getting an extra question or two in before the break.

His strategy of higher values also takes away the daily doubles from the other players early, as long as he is in control, preventing them from a quick catch-up. Though he has gotten burned by picking it before having more than $1000 in his bank.

Picking the higher value questions first doesn't give his opponents time to get comfortable under the pressure of a real game.

I enjoy watching people who are really good at something. James Holzhauer is really good.

Roger Owen Green said...

I don't know if people were REQUIRED to go from top to bottom in the Fleming days but they were more compliant people, I gather. The clues in “Jeopardy!” are placed in order of difficulty. So contestants were certainly encouraged to make their way down each category from top to bottom.

And occasionally, the clues would be written so that you needed to know the $200 answer to answer the $400 question, et al.

According to the Wikipedia [piece on Chuck Forrest: "Host Alex Trebek has expressed aggravation with people who use the Forrest Bounce, noting that the show's writers purposely set up the clues in each category to flow when picked sequentially."