CULVER CITY — It’s official: James Holzhauer of Las Vegas is the first-ever “Jeopardy! Masters” champion.
The self-described “game show villain” won the three-week-long competition on Wednesday, after going head-to-head against Mattea Roach and Matt Amodio in the two-game final.
“I knew coming in this was going to be an incredibly high-level competition,” Holzhauer told executive producer Michael Davies and producer Sarah Whitcomb Foss during Wednesday’s post-tournament edition of “Inside Jeopardy!.” “But even I was blown away by the great performances out there – especially Mattea in the final.”
While Holzhauer was ahead after the first game, Roach had a commanding lead over him in the second. However, after combining the points from both games he was able to secure the win with a total of 43,795 points and claim the $500,000 grand prize and Trebek Trophy. Roach finished in second with 41,685 points and earned $250,000 and Amodio took home the third-place prize of $150,000 after scoring a total of 15,200 points.
“You know I told [Roach], I’ve played against Ken [Jennings], I’ve played against Amy [Schneider], I’ve played against all-time greats,” James said. “But I’ve never felt as on the ropes as Mattea made me feel in the final.”
“I don’t know what it is about their buzzer mojo,” he continued. “But, you know, there were times where I just could not get in.”
All three players missed the last Final Jeopardy! clue on Wednesday, which Holzhauer said ultimately played out in his favor.
“I had two choices: I could bet everything [and] hope I get it right and Mattea gets it wrong,” he explained. “Or [if] Mattea bets small, I can wager small and hope that it’s a really hard [clue] and that Mattea gets it wrong and bets big.”
“It’s kind of lucky that Mattea went that way and especially lucky that it was a killer final that none of us knew,” he added.
The clue was: “A work by this 15th-century English writer quotes the phrase rex quondam rexque futurus.“
The correct response was “Who is Thomas Malory?” The Latin phrase translates to “the once and future king” and refers to King Arthur, whom Malory immortalized in “Le Morte d’Arthur.”
Amodio had no guess and wagered no points, finishing with 15,200 points. Holzhauer guessed T.H. White and bet 119 points for a total of 43,795. Roach guessed Chaucer and bet 5,915 for a total of 41,685 points.
In terms of material, Holzhauer said he found the “Jeopardy! Masters” clues to be just as challenging as the other elite tournaments he has played in, including the 2019 “Tournament of Champions” and “Greatest of All Time” in 2020.
“I tried my best to prepare, but honestly you never know what’s going to come up there,” he said. “And a lot of the things [the show] threw out there I was expecting — Triple Rhyme Time, Before, During & After — but that doesn’t help you prepare for it. It was as hard as anything I have seen on the show.”
As the only player who did not compete in the last “Tournament of Champions,” Holzhauer said he did not know what to expect from his fellow players, who in addition to Roach and Amodio included Schneider, Andrew He and Sam Buttrey. But he was certain that the competition in “Jeopardy! Masters” would be stiff.
“I knew everyone was going to be great,” Holzhauer said. “There were no easy outs in the lineup ever. I had to go in there and play my best and hope that was good enough.”
In addition to his grand prize winnings of $500,000, “Jeopardy!” is donating $100,000 to his charity of choice, Project 150, which offers free support and services to homeless high school students in southern Nevada.
“It’s going to mean so much to these people,” Holzhauer said. “They are going to be able to provide some scholarships, and some food and some clothing to people who badly need it.”
Holzhauer will return to the Alex Trebek Stage to defend his title in next year’s “Jeopardy! Masters” alongside Roach and Amodio, who both earned automatic entries into the competition by qualifying for this year’s finals.
During his 32-game winning streak in 2019, which netted him more than $2.4 million, Holzhauer often dedicated his final winning answer to a family member, including his late grandmother, Kazuko Ide, who was originally from Niigata. She later moved to Osaka, where Holzhauer’s mother, Nachiko, was born, and relocated to America to help raise him and his brother.
He recalled that his grandmother loved to watch “Jeopardy!” despite not understanding much of it. As a child he promised her that someday he would be a champion on the show.
During one segment of “Jeopardy! Masters,” Holzhauer expressed his Japanese heritage by writing his first name in katakana.
Holzhauer has also appeared on another ABC show, “The Chase,” in which contestants were pitted against him and fellow “Jeopardy!” champions Jennings and Brad Rutter, among others.