He has, though, adapted his game. If the individual player matchups don’t appeal to you—if you never cared what might happen if Koufax pitched to Bonds—know that in these Jeopardy! GOAT games you can also find the strategic evolution of a decades-old competition.
WIRED took a deeper dive into Holzhauer’s Jeopardy! game theory during his initial run, but it centers around a few core principles: Start at the bottom of the game board to stockpile cash. Bounce around categories in search of Daily Doubles, to put that money to work. And always, always bet big.
Holzhauer readily admits that he didn’t invent that playbook. “I think most people who bother to study Jeopardy! game theory are going to arrive at similar conclusions about how to best play the game,” he told WIRED last spring. “Not everyone is going to take that step, of course.”
In the GOAT tournament, Jennings and Rutter have taken that step. During their initial runs years ago, each man largely played like, well, you might if you were there: working from the easiest clues to the hardest, clearing out one category before moving to the next, and wagering a portion of their total on Daily Doubles rather than going all in every time. “I was playing a game show like I had on my couch,” Jennings told WIRED last year. “My top priority wasn’t maximizing winnings; it was to feel comfortable and have fun yelling answers at Alex [Trebek], like I do at home.”
Now all three players are maxing out their Daily Double wagers, and darting around the board like hummingbirds in search of more. In fairness, you could see this play out in last fall’s All-Stars team tournament, as well. (Again, Holzhauer wasn’t the first to do it, just the best.) But the GOAT tournament shows what happens when this style of play unfolds at the highest level. It’s as much a celebration of the future of Jeopardy! as it is the past.
Not to get sentimental, but that future will be markedly different in more ways than just strategy. Alex Trebek has hosted the show since 1984. He’s now 79, fighting stage 4 pancreatic cancer since early 2019. He says he has no immediate plans to step down, but it’s uncertain whether he’ll have an opportunity to take the podium in such grand fashion—primetime, to an audience of millions, guiding contestants that by now “feel like family”—before he settles into a well-deserved retirement.
It’s not just Trebek, though. Harry Friedman has produced both Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune for a quarter of a century. He’ll leave both shows when his contract runs out in March. Trebek has been the face and heart of Jeopardy!, but Friedman has spent the last 25 years as the connective tissue, making critical changes—lifting the five-game cap, increasing clue values—while keeping the show true to its original vision. Friedman is producing the GOAT tournament, and came up with its format. You’ll never see him onscreen, but you’re watching a legend go out on top.
And if all that still doesn’t convince you, will you at least trust the wisdom of crowds? Around 15 million people on average watched the first three installments, more than any show this year other than the Golden Globes. More people watched the first three games of Jeopardy! GOAT than did the first three games of both the NBA Finals and the World Series.
Yes, next year could bring a primetime rematch. Or maybe another Jeopardy! champion will emerge who puts Jennings, Holzhauer, and Rutter to shame. (This is … not likely.) But don’t settle for the rerun. There’s never been anything like the Jeopardy! GOAT. There never will be again.
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