‘Jeopardy!’ Contestant Describes Losing to James Holzhauer: The ‘Machine Is Inexorable’

“What makes him a ‘Jeopardy!’ machine is all of that and his impeccable timing on the buzzer,” Stephanie Stein says

Stephanie Stein, an editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books, described her “unreal” experience getting trounced by reigning “Jeopardy!” champion James Holzhauer.

“The James machine is inexorable,” Stein wrote in the New York Times on Saturday. “What makes him a “Jeopardy!” machine is all of that and his impeccable timing on the buzzer. It’s unreal.”

At the time Stein faced him, Holzhauer had already put away five games. The show, as she noted, films multiple episodes a day, and Stein described the growing sense of dread building up on set.

“I remember someone joking, ‘Who’s next into the meat grinder?’ I couldn’t decide if I wanted it to be me. At least then the wait would be over,” Stein wrote. “My mother was in the audience, and you’re not allowed to talk to your guests during the taping, but her face said it all.”

Holzhauer, a professional sports gambler, has now won more than 20 “Jeopardy!” episodes with total winnings nearing $1.7 million. The haul makes him the second most successful player in “Jeopardy!” history behind only Ken Jennings — who won 74 consecutive games in 2004.

Stein, like many others, described Holzhauer’s game strategy. In addition to lightning-fast buzzer skills, he starts with the highest value (and most difficult) clues, allowing him to have more cash at his disposal for the Daily Doubles he lands on.

Though Holzhauer has come in for criticism, with former “Jeopardy!” contestant Charles Lane calling his professional approach to the show “a menace” — the show itself has had benefited handsomely, beating Judge Judy’s 40-week winning streak in syndication ratings last month.

Holzhauer’s dominance comes as “Jeopardy!” faces an uncertain future. In March, longtime host Alex Trebek revealed he was suffering from stage four pancreatic cancer, but also said he planned to continue hosting the show for as long as he could. His “Jeopardy!” contract runs until 2022.