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‘Jeopardy!’ whiz James Holzhauer still must take out the trash

Las Vegas resident and national “Jeopardy!” game show phenom James Holzhauer returns to the airwaves Monday after a two-week hiatus, continuing his quest to become the program’s biggest winner ever.

But despite becoming an overnight celebrity and millionaire, Holzhauer insists he’s still the same dedicated family man he was a few months ago before his skills as a professional sports bettor helped him dominate the syndicated trivia program.

“When I flew home from one of my taping sessions, I told my wife I had made $400,000 in the five episodes we recorded that day,” Holzhauer wrote recently in an email to the Review-Journal. “She said, ‘That’s great, now take out the trash.’”

Holzhauer has won 22 consecutive games and $1.69 million, figures topped only by Ken Jennings, of Edmonds, Washington, who won $2.52 million and 74 consecutive games in 2004, in the show’s 35-year history.

He also was awarded the key to the city this month when he received a proclamation that it was “James Holzhauer Day” in Clark County.

“This is something I would have bet heavily against if I had the opportunity,” said Holzhauer, who showed up for the occasion wearing shorts, a pair of Skechers and a Golden Knights No. 61 Mark Stone jersey. His wife, Melissa, a classical literature scholar who met her husband in a volunteer program to teach English in Thailand, was waiting nearby in the shade with their 4-year-old daughter and a few friends.

As Holzhauer headed back to his Honda Fit, he walked past an Elvis impersonator in a white jumpsuit who said, “You’re doing great, but I’m still the King.” The family then drove off down the Strip.

“My family and I were already living our best lives before ‘Jeopardy!’ called, so we mostly want to continue that while also giving back to the children of the Las Vegas community,” he said.

Holzhauer said he has yet to receive any of the money he’s won on the show — “‘Jeopardy!’ claims they won’t pay me until 120 days after my final show airs, so I may be waiting forever,” he said. Holzhauer cannot speak about the results of the show until his final one airs.

Field of dreams

When his streak ends, it appears Holzhauer can cash out as a bettor if he chooses and still work in the world of sports.

Before his break from the show, he posted on Twitter — above a Washington Post editorial headlined “James Holzhauer is a menace to ‘Jeopardy!’” — that “I always dreamed of working in an MLB front office and ruining baseball, but I have to settle for ruining Jeopardy instead.”

Multiple MLB executives have said they’d “absolutely” hire Holzhauer, but he told the Review-Journal he’s not in any rush to leave Las Vegas.

“I think the potential job offers going around in the media are flattering, but it would really take a special opportunity for me to rearrange my life,” he said. “If I can really work in any sport, I wonder if the Golden Knights have an opening in their analytics department?”

A numbers game

Holzhauer always has been fascinated by numbers.

When he was 4, the Naperville, Illinois, native was featured as a math whiz in a Chicago Tribune story on gifted children. At 7, he skipped second grade entirely and was moved up to a fifth-grade math class.

Ian Holzhauer, 36, an attorney and James’ brother, told Chicago WGN Radio that he never needed a calculator as a kid because his little brother could calculate everything in his head. Despite James starring on his high school math team, Ian said his brother was a C student because he didn’t do any of his homework.

James Holzhauer received his bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the University of Illinois but said that he really majored in online poker, sometimes skipping class to supplement his income by playing. He built his sports betting bankroll with his online poker profits.

“I certainly did skip college classes to play, but I don’t think I ever had a truancy in high school for any reason,” he said. “I even showed up to school on senior ditch day.”

Holzhauer has rewritten the “Jeopardy!” playbook and record book thanks in large part to his strategy of building his bankroll by playing the high-value clues first and then betting big on Daily Doubles — hitting 49 of 53 for net earnings of $462,416.

According to thejeopardyfan.com, he has the 12 highest single-day totals in show history, and his average winnings ($76,864) are $136 less than the previous single-day record ($77,000).

He also has been first on the buzzer 59 percent of the time and — oh, yeah — he’s almost never wrong. Holzhauer has the record of 187 consecutive correct responses, has seven perfect games and has answered correctly 803 times in 830 attempts (96.7 percent).

Holzhauer vs. Hawking, Einstein

Contrary to popular belief, Holzhauer said he doesn’t have a photographic memory.

“I do have a high IQ, but I don’t think IQ is everything,” he said. “I think I really had to work hard to chase this dream for myself.”

Asked via email what his IQ is, Holzhauer replied: “I think 158. But it’s been a long time since I’ve felt the need to stroke my ego by actually testing it.”

On most scales, 158 is considered a genius IQ. Renowned physicists Albert Einstein and Steven Hawking had IQs of 160.

Still, Holzhauer said he never expected to dominate the show.

“I thought I would win a few episodes, but I did not expect this level of play,” he said. “I’m glad it was me that went out with this strategy. But I would’ve really loved to see anyone try it.”

He disagrees with the notion that he’s ruined “Jeopardy!”, which has posted its highest ratings in 14 years during his run.

“It’s silly to suggest that one contestant could break a game that’s been around for generations,” he said. “But controversy creates page views.”

It’s ingrained in Holzhauer’s personality to maximize every part of his life.

“I think the best way to quickly describe my personality is that I’m a maximizer rather than a satisficer, i.e. I want to squeeze every drop out of an opportunity rather than settle for ‘good enough,’” he said. “This attitude helped make me into a great ‘Jeopardy!’ player, but I also have to actively strive to live a balanced life.

“Satisficers are said to live happier lives, but that’s not how I’m wired.”

An avid traveler, Holzhauer — whose father, a chemical engineer, emigrated from Germany and whose mother and grandmother emigrated from Japan — maxed out the satisfaction during a recent trip to Sicily.

“My family went on a food tour to sample the best arancino, caponata and granita in the city, then we took the kid to a beautiful garden playground,” he said. “That was close to a dream day.”

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com. Follow @tdewey33 on Twitter.

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