Goliath will get a rematch against David in the Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions Final, with James Holzhauer facing off against “giant killer” Emma Boettcher ’14, who ended Holzhauer’s historic 32-game winning streak in June.
Over three months and 33 games, Holzhauer accumulated $2,462,216 on the show, in a run that included the 10 most profitable single games of all time. Winning an average of over $74,000 per game, he finished just $58,484 short of Ken Jennings’ record for most regular-season winnings.
Competing alongside Boettcher and Holzhauer in the final will be high school physics teacher Francois Barcomb, who defeated Woodrow Wilson School Director of Global Health Programs Gilbert Collins GS ’99 in a semifinal game on Nov. 13. The two-night final round will air on Nov. 14 and 15, with the winner taking home a grand prize of $250,000.
In the quarterfinal round, which aired last week, Boettcher more than doubled her opponents’ scores. In her semifinal game, Boettcher took on music teacher Kyle Jones, who lost his quarterfinal match to Collins but made it into the semifinals as a wild card based on total points scored, and Brown University junior Dhruv Gaur.
Although Boettcher came up with more correct responses and fewer incorrect responses than both of her opponents in the semis, the game was anything but a runaway.
“At the time, I felt very fortunate to have made it that far, and I was trying to basically, you know, stay in the moment and not preemptively get too hard on myself if I didn’t make it into the finals,” Boettcher noted. “And that allowed me to enjoy it and focus on the clues.”
In Single Jeopardy!, Boettcher answered eight clues correctly, worth a total of $5,200, but responded to two high-dollar-value clues incorrectly and ended the round with $3,200. Jones came up with the most correct responses with 10 and ended with a slight lead, while Gaur ended the round with $0.
Early in Double Jeopardy!, Gaur wagered and lost $2,000 he did not have on a Daily Double! about former University mathematics professor John Nash GS ’50. Though Gaur was able to pick up some steam later in the round, ending with $2,000, it quickly became a two-person competition.
Boettcher took the relative lead in that round, steadily accumulating points throughout the Double Jeopardy! round. She dominated early on, at one point more than doubling Jones’ score with $12,400.
However, after pulling himself up to $6,200, Jones picked a Daily Double and bet it all. With a correct response of “serial,” Jones tied things up midway through the round. Of her six games played, this semifinal was the only one in which Boettcher did not find a single Daily Double.
“It’s weird to say that I was proud of him, but also, it’s a great move, right?” Boettcher said. “So I wasn’t necessarily happy that I didn’t get the Daily Doubles, but at the same time, I could be impressed by the way they were played.”
If Jones’ jump in points made Boettcher nervous, she did not show it, answering the next three questions correctly and retaining her lead through the entirety of the round. In total, Boettcher was 13-for-13 in Double Jeopardy!, bringing her score up to $19,200, ahead of Jones’ $14,800.
Boettcher and Jones both came up with the correct response in Final Jeopardy!, which asked for the title of the 1890s New York City slums exposé “How the Other Half Lives.” With a wager of $10,401, Boettcher retained her lead and sent Jones and Gaur home with $10,000 consolation prizes.
“Back in June [when the episode was recorded], it was something I didn’t necessarily believe until Alex said it. It’s a great feeling to have come that far, but even during the final round I was constantly looking over my answer,” Boettcher said. “It just never really feels real until Alex says so.”
One moment of the game that got a particular amount of immediate media attention was Gaur’s Final Jeopardy response. Trebek, who announced that he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in March and has hinted at retiring from the show, choked up briefly after Gaur wrote “We ‘heart’ you Alex” as his response.
“Seeing that all over again [on Monday] just really brought back that feeling of how lucky we all were to be there and be playing in that tournament with Alex still as host,” Boettcher said. “Seeing that game … was just a reminder of how special this show is. Not just the knowledge and trivia, but also the people behind it, both the contestants and Alex.”
Boettcher also noted that, as part of a fundraiser organized by past Jeopardy! champion Steven Grade, viewers are encouraged to play along when watching the two-day final round and invited to donate $1 to a pancreatic-cancer research organization for each clue they respond to correctly.
Collins also noted that the contestants wore purple ribbons throughout the tournament as a way to honor 2018 Teacher’s Tournament Champion Larry Martin, who passed away from pancreatic cancer before being able to compete in the Tournament of Champions.
“I was excited to be able to talk about that a little bit on the show this evening,” Collins said. “Given that Larry Martin passed away from pancreatic cancer, which is the same thing that Alex is fighting right now, it was very exciting to be able to wish Alex all the best too.”
“That was actually a thought I had going into the game,” he added. “Of course I want to win the game, but, win or lose, one of the things I really cared about the most was being able to tell Alex we cared about him a lot and supported him as he was fighting cancer.”
After winning by $1 in the quarterfinal round, Collins finished third in the semifinals.
Collins said he watched his semifinal game air in the Louis A. Simpson International Building, surrounded by 70 people, as he gave the watch-party goers a bit of color commentary and behind-the-scenes during commercial breaks.
“It made it into not just watching a TV show, but more of a fun interactive thing,” he said.
In Single Jeopardy!, physician and health care analyst Lindsey Shultz ended with $6,400 and a slight lead over Barcomb and Collins, who responded correctly for nine of the 11 clues he buzzed in on. Shultz answered the most questions correctly in the Double Jeopardy! round with 11, bringing her score up to $17,400. However, a correctly-answered $8,000 Daily Double! helped propel Barcomb to an eventual $22,000.
Collins ended Double Jeopardy! with $12,600 after eight correct answers, keeping himself alive with several late-game correct answers.
“I was actually not in a particularly bad place going into Final Jeopardy!,” he said. “I was in a place where if both Francois and Lindsey bet in predictable ways, at least ways that many people might bet if they were in their shoes, if everybody gets this question wrong, then I will win.”
However, this did not pan out for Collins, with Barcomb answering the question correctly and retaining his lead, sending both Shultz and Collins home with consolation prizes of $10,000 each.
Collins said that he will use some of his winnings on work around the house and plans to donate a portion to charity.
“We’ll give some to charities serving vulnerable folks in Central Jersey and Trenton,” he said. “And then we do some donations to animal conservation organizations that our kids are very passionate about.”
He will also be giving some to his kids.
“Many years ago, before I even tried out to get on Jeopardy!, I would be watching the show with my two boys … and the kids said, ‘Oh you could have won. You should go on Jeopardy!. Can I have half of whatever you win?’”
Collins says he eventually negotiated them down and promised to give them 1 percent of anything he won on the show. Originally, he thought the 1 percent would amount to $20 or $10, since the second and third place winners on Jeopardy! earn $2,000 and $1,000 respectively, but Collins still kept his word after winning $84,201 on the show. Keeping with this tradition, he will give $100 of his Tournament of Champions winnings to each of his kids.
Though no longer competing himself, Collins said the final game will be exciting to watch. With “James Holzhauer against the person who beat James Holzhauer,” Collins said that fans of the show will get to see if lightning strikes twice.
All three finalists have proven their ability to compete through the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds. Holzhauer has been particularly dominant thus far, earning over $30,000 and locking up victories in both rounds prior to Final Jeopardy. Barcomb has put up even bigger numbers, locking up his quarterfinal win with $34,300 and defeating Collins in the semifinal with $34,801, the two highest scores throughout the tournament. Boettcher earned a combined $53,401 through her two games.
By making it to the final match, Boettcher has already guaranteed herself $50,000, a total she can double with a second place finish and quintuple with a win.
The two-part Tournament of Champions finale will air beginning at 7 p.m. on Nov. 14 in Princeton on WPVI ABC Philadelphia.