A historic Jeopardy! win streak came to an end on Monday, June 3, and one Georgia Tech employee witnessed it from behind the buzzer.
Jay Sexton, chief operating officer of Georgia Tech’s Center for the Development and Application of Internet of Things Technologies (CDAIT), finished in third place as James Holzhauer ended a 32-game win streak to the night’s champion, Emma Boettcher. Sexton finished the game with $17,000, which on any other day could easily have been a winning score.
“It was the most efficiently played game in Jeopardy! history,” Sexton said. Fifty-nine out of 60 clues were answered correctly, all of them by the first person to ring in, with only one incorrect response. “I just happened to go up against two absolutely amazing players.”
Sexton had made appearances on High Q, a local quiz show for high school students, and taken the Jeopardy! test before. As a kid, he memorized all of the questions from the Trivial Pursuit Genus I board game, reading trivia cards on road trips. His sister even appeared on the show a few years ago. But nothing could prepare him for being at the buzzer himself.
“The buzzer makes a big difference,” he said. “I never got the feel for it until too late in the game. Both [Emma and James] were amazing with the buzzer.”
Sexton was up against the show’s most dominant player in years. Holzhauer now holds the top 16 slots for one-day win totals, and won $2,464,216 overall during his run on the show — just $58,484 shy of Ken Jennings’ record total earnings. Of course, Sexton didn’t know that going into his game — his episode was taped in March, before Holzhauer first appeared in front of a national audience. Sexton quickly got a sense of Holzhauer’s level of play during player introductions, though, when he learned the length of his winning streak and how much money he’d already won.
“You realize he’s winning almost $80,000 per game, which is a record in so many ways, that we knew, ‘Wow, OK, this guy is something else,’” Sexton said. Sexton is a two-time Tech graduate, with a bachelor’s and master’s in electrical engineering. He also holds a Master of Business Administration from Georgia State University. He came back to Tech as an employee in 2000 thinking he’d stay for a few years while pursuing a graduate degree. Almost two decades later, he’s still here.
“What I love about working at Georgia Tech is the variety of things I’ve been able to work on over those 20 years,” he said. His work with CDAIT and the Georgia Tech Research Institute has spanned K-12 outreach, accessibility, public safety, and sustainability. His tips for those considering a Jeopardy appearance: Study, watch old episodes, and practice using a buzzer.
By Kristen Bailey and Steven Norris | June 4, 2019 • Atlanta, GA
Rodney Ho, "How a Georgia Tech engineer helped break James Holzhauer’s ‘Jeopardy’ streak," AJC Radio and TV Talk blog, June 3, 2019, https://www.ajc.com/blog/radiotvtalk/how-georgia-tech-engineer-helped-br...
Omny.fm, "Jeopardy Contestant Jay Sexton," June 5, 2019, https://omny.fm/shows/twomenandamom/jeopardy-contestant-jay-sexton