Kevin Olmstead on what makes James Holzhauer different
by Jan Schlain
From the June, 2019 issue
How is James Holzhauer crushing records on Jeopardy!? Former contestant and Ann Arborite Kevin Olmstead has some theories.
When he was on the show in 1994, Olmstead says, he played like most people: working his way from the easiest to the hardest questions in one category and then moving on to another. Not Holzhauer. He hunts down the daily doubles and goes straight for the hardest and most valuable clues.
That style of "bounding around the board," Olmstead says in a phone interview from his home in South Bend, "was pioneered by U-M law school alum Chuck Forrest" in 1985. "You have to have extreme confidence in your knowledge" to play that way, he adds.
As the Observer went to press, Holzhauer had won twenty-two games and $1,691,008. Olmstead says he won about $25,000 and U-M School of Information grad Rebecca McNitt finished with $4,600 when she played against Holzhauer on the April 22 show.
Olmstead still leads Holzhauer in total game show winnings: In 2008, he won $2,180,000 on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? but once he paid $900,000 in taxes, bought a minivan and a northside condo, and gave $10,000 each to his mom, sister, nephews, and niece, he was left with "a couple hundred thousand." He still works as a civil engineer.
Olmstead points out that Holzhauer, a professional sports gambler, has another edge: stamina. Because an entire week's shows are taped "back to back to back with maybe a lunch break," he says, for most people, "there comes a point when you run out of energy."
"It's like the Roadrunner cartoon," he says, "when the coyote has taken speed pills and they run out"--you can almost see players slump in shows taped later in the day.
Of course, Holzhauer already knew how those shows turned out--they're taped weeks in advance.
[Originally published in June, 2019.]
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