How does one win ‘Jeopardy!’? James Holzhauer explains how he cracked the show’s code on this episode of ‘Planet Money’

TV & Film January 5, 2022
Planet Money
Listen to ‘How Uncle Jaime Broke Jeopardy (Update)’

For any Jeopardy! fans (and, let’s get real, who isn’t?), this episode of “Planet Money” is a must-listen. While this episode was originally released in 2019 during James Holzhauer’s historic Jeopardy! run, it was re-released in June of 2021 for a very important reason that will be mentioned at the end of the episode.

This episode, in just 30 minutes, breaks down how Holzhauer is so darn good at this game show. While “Planet Money” is known for going outside of the box when it comes to teaching people about the economy and finances, this one is seemingly less about money and how it works. And part of that is due to the fact that one of the “Planet Money” hosts, Kenny Malone, is the brother-in-law of the one and only James Holzhauer. So, he pulled him onto the podcast to talk all about how he cracked the Jeopardy! code.

Malone, in his classic way, has a delightfully comedic approach towards being in constant competition for Favorite Uncle with Holzhauer. Holzhauer was known for shouting out his nieces and nephews on the show, typically through the amount of money he would bet on Final Jeopardy. Holzhauer was defeated on the show after winning 33 games and over $2.4 million, becoming the third-highest-earning American game show contestant ever.

But it’s no coincidence that Holzhauer is so good at this game show. He was a math major who actually didn’t even need to go to class, instead spending that time making money on online poker. Holzhauer went on to become a very successful sports gambler, retired at just 27 years old, traveled the world, climbed Mount Fuji, etc.

Malone makes an interesting observation at the beginning of the episode: Jeopardy! is not just about being good at trivia. Holzhauer obviously had a strategy; his gameplay was extremely jarring to purists of the show when he was first competing. So, Malone has to ask: what does it mean to be good at Jeopardy? What exactly are Jeopardy! champions good at?

In this incredible episode of “Planet Money,” Malone speaks to past Jeopardy! champions about how they dominated the show, how Holzhauer has completely rewritten the Jeopardy! formula, and how he used analytics and statistics to become one of the best to ever play the game. The math (and gambling) prodigy himself explains just how he figured out how to earn the most money, from consistently picking the most expensive questions first, figuring out where the Daily Doubles would most likely be, and strategically avoiding them if it were too early in the game. Holzhauer studied past seasons of the show, decoding what topics were most likely to appear and what sort of information was typically asked for in those subjects.

Malone also brings on the mythical Ken Jennings, who actually spills his Jeopardy! success secret and how producers used it to finally end his 74-game win streak. Curious what that could be? Take a listen to this episode.

One of our favorite podcast episodes of all time, this “Planet Money” episode, titled “How Uncle Jamie Broke Jeopardy (Update)” is just superb. And as we watch Amy Schneider continue her now 4th-longest win streak (over 20 games and nearly $1 million as of January 4th, 2021), this episode helps us understand just how complex Jeopardy! has become.

Listen to ‘How Uncle Jaime Broke Jeopardy (Update)’

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