Was Johns Creek’s Alan Dunn able to unseat James Holzhauer during Jeopardy’s Tournament of Champions?

Originally posted Thursday, November 7, 2019 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

For a glorious few seconds at the start of Double Jeopardy during the Tournament of Champions that aired Wednesday, Johns Creek resident Alan Dunn was a mere $800 behind already legendary player James Holzhauer

Dunn, a software engineer, had just doubled his earnings by answering a Daily Double correctly, reaching $8,000. 

But keeping up with Holzhauer - a professional gambler and pop culture sensation who won 32 games in a row earlier this year with $2.46 million in his pocket -  proved no easy task. Dunn couldn’t find an opening.

“The man is phenomenal at the buzzer,” Dunn said the day after the show aired. “And the breadth of knowledge is really there.”

Dunn, like most players at this level, knew most of the 60 questions but simply couldn’t beat Holzhauer to the buzzer most of the time. 

When Holzhauer made his only mistake on a $2,000 science and exploration question, Dunn came in to try to pick up the money but also got it wrong, pushing him down to $6,800 after a peak of $8,800 he would never reach again. Holzhauer cruised through most of the higher-dollar questions and the contest was effectively over long before anybody bothered to pick a $400 question.

Dunn ultimately finished Double Jeopardy well behind the other two players. Trying to maximize dollars in hopes of grabbing a spot in the semifinals, he bet $5,999 of his $6,000 during Final Jeopardy in hopes of at finishing at $11,999. Instead, he got it wrong and ended up with $1 and no chance of moving on to the next round. 

His final tally: 11 right and three wrong. (Details here.) Runner-up Lindsay Schultz got 13 right and one wrong. Holzhauer? 33 right and one incorrect answer. During Holzhauer’s 32-game win streak, he typically answered 50 to 60 percent of the questions so in this case, he was on par even against two super elite players. 

As a pop culture expert, I was thrilled that Dunn was able to identify “Dancing With the Stars” judge Carrie Ann Inaba and got to say “Jackass” as the answer to a question about Johnny Knoxville.

Dunn said in the green room, the players are provided DVDs of movies to kill time but the crew makes sure none of the actual “Jeopardy” questions relate to those movies. But without meaning to, Dunn found a loophole: “Shawn of the Dead’ featured a trailer for a “Jackass” movie, which helped Dunn get that answer quickly. 

But he inexplicably said Kelly “Anne” Clarkson instead of Kelly Clarkson on a question about her new talk show. He said he still had Carrie Ann Inaba on the brain. In the Double Jeopardy round, Dunn correctly answered a $400 “Star Wars” question while Holzhauer readily identified a photo of comic John Mulaney in a $2,000 entertainment question.

Dunn was kicking himself for not remembering Cesar Milan’s last name although he had just done a crossword puzzle featuring a “Dog Whisperer” clue. 

Holzhauer ended up in first with $30,609, guaranteeing a spot in the semifinals.

Dunn in an interview before the competition had hoped he wouldn’t have to face off immediately against Holzhauer. But he did. He said he found out literally seconds before the game began. In the green room, he facetiously told the rest of the contestants, “You’re welcome!” 

He qualified for the Tournament of Champions earlier this year by winning five games in a row and pocketing $120,802

“It was so much fun,” he said, despite missing the semifinals. “The staff and the rest of the contestants were amazing. We all have this similar thirst for obscure, arcane knowledge and we made a lot of jokes about it.” The show even inspired him to join Facebook so he could connect with other players on a private page. 

And on a sadder note, he was glad to have spent more time with Alex Trebek, who is battling pancreatic cancer and has talked about forced retirement soon. Trebek, during the taping in September, had just started another round of chemo and told the contestants in the green room, “I’m tired as s***.” But he did his job professionally. There was no way to tell on TV Trebek was sick at all. 

Two other Georgians also made the Tournament of Champions: Atlanta sports consultant Steven Grade ( who won $115,502) and Gainesville resident Dhruv Gauer ($100,000).

Photo: Carol Kaelson/Photographer

Gauer, a Brown student who was the victor in the College Jeopardy tournament over the summer, won his competition that aired on Tuesday. He played a clean game, answering 20 correct and making just one mistake. He finished with $20,001 and will be in the semifinals next week. He could very well face Holzhauer as well.

Grade is set to compete on Friday to try to make it to the final nine himself.

The winner of the entire tournament pockets $250,000. 

“Jeopardy” airs in Atlanta on WXIA-TV (11Alive) at 7:30 p.m. weekdays. 

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About the Author

Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.