‘Jeopardy’ Wasn’t Designed for a Contestant Like James Holzhauer

James Holzhauer has crushed previous records and guaranteed himself at least $850,000

The set of "Jeopardy!"(Amanda Edwards/ Getty)
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In just 12 episodes of Jeopardy, contestant James Holzhauer has crushed previous records and guaranteed himself at least $850,000.

Holzhauer has easily eclipsed Ken Jennings, the last Jeopardy star to leave the quiz show with a big final payday, in his time on the show so far. Fifteen years ago, Jennings amassed roughly $2.5 million in 74 episodes. But at his current pace, Holzhauer is blowing Jennings away, The Atlantic noted.

Before Holzhauer, the most money earned in a single episode of Jeopardy was $77,000; but in the time he’s been on the stage, he’s beaten that total not once, but five times, and has set a new record of $131,127. In short, it’s safe to say Holzhauer is making a huge dent in the Jeopardy winner’s fund.

“Every game show has a prize budget,” former head of programming at Game Show Network, Bob Boden, said. “Typically, for a long-running show the prize budget is determined by way of averages of what has been won in the past. James’s performance, I’m sure, is causing grief for an accountant somewhere.”

For some shows, the estimate is much more locked in — like the consistent $1 million the winner of Survivor takes home. But Boden said budgets for shows such as Jeopardy with variable winnings are harder to project. For some, insurance policies for unaccounted-for variables, like Holzhauer, are purchased. But Boden doesn’t think this is a concern for Jeopardy.

First off, the show’s prize budget probably isn’t its biggest expense after considering production costs like Alex Trebek’s rumored $10 million salary. And secondly, Holzhauer’s stellar performances are attracting viewers.

“…In a situation like this, where records are being set and broken every night, the excitement, I believe, outweighs the lopsided results,” he said.

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