Who is James?

If you’re not watching Jeopardy! right now, you should be. I’m obsessed with stories like this one, stories that throw a champion your way when you least expect it. We’ll get to James Holzhauer, who we’ll call James from here on so I don’t have to copy/paste his last name repeatedly, in a minute.

Like many of you probably, I watch competitively, and while you mainly just want to prove that you’re smarter than everyone, if you had to think of something unselfish root for during the episode, you might look to someone breaking the single day total, or perhaps the longest win streak.  Maybe a combination of speed and stamina, someone might win a large amount very quickly. All of those things would be exciting to watch.

And over the years all those things occurred, and even as I flaunted my own brilliance to a television screen that wasn’t paying attention, I saw Ken Jennings win 74 games in a row and take home 2.5 million dollars. I saw that other guy swing heavily on his way to $77,000 or so in a single episode.

These numbers were untouchable things.

And I liked those numbers untouchable, too. Those records were set by magic men sent from space or Smart Heaven.  Ken Jennings was supposed to be an enigma.  If there is just one of him, we tell ourselves, then we don’t have to feel so inferior.

Because that is what I felt watching him. How can a person know so many things? Why do I only know some of the things? Is he a computer? What am I watching? And then, because I sometimes talk myself out of a thing because someone else has already done it perfectly, which is a trait I am working on, I tell myself that I should just never try out for Jeopardy!

Let’s be honest, I probably wasn’t going to anyway.

So to me, if you’d asked several weeks ago, Jeopardy! was basically over. Alex Trebek was in his final days, all the records were ridiculously unreachable, and there would probably be a teacher’s tournament. Yawn.

Then along comes James, and James is not only endangering all the records, he’s shifted the entire paradigm of how the game should be played. He’s just chalked off his 27th consecutive win and is over the two million hump.

James knows a lot, make no mistake, but he gets only a handful more answers correct than I do.  His play style is aggressive though, and that’s the magic. He doesn’t wait for the Daily Double; he hunts it. He bets large. He brings concepts from the world of gambling, specifically poker, to a television game show and it has destroyed a 34 year-old pattern.

Like I said, they’re the stories I’m obsessed with. Someone arrives at a problem, looks at it through completely untainted eyes, and then revolutionizes an industry that was supposed to be operating at peak efficiently almost overnight. Just take note of how powerful that concept is. 

I’m off to climb mountains for my birthday.

Be good to each other.

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