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What Happens After You Defeat a Jeopardy! Megachampion?

Photo: Jeopardy!/ABC

Just when you entertained the idea that James Holzhauer, the greatest (and most strategic) Jeopardy! champion since Ken Jennings, couldn’t possibly run out of steam and succumb to a defeat at the hands of another contestant’s buzzer, in struts Emma Boettcher to say, Hell no. That’s exactly what happened on Monday’s episode, anyway, when Boettcher was able to defeat Holzhauer in a close match, stopping him short of breaking Jennings’s regular-game earnings record ($2,464,216 to Jennings’s $2,520,700, to be precise.) Boettcher now has the distinction of being the newest inductee into the Game Show Beast-Slayers Club and will continue her run per normal this evening, as if nothing massive just happened.

This history of Jeopardy! players who’ve defeated a megachampion piqued Vulture’s interest — so much so we decided to look back at the most memorable instances over the past decade. (We love a good run!) The following results, admittedly, are pretty far from what we expected.

Nancy Zerg, who defeated Ken Jennings after a 74-win, $2.5 million streak

Photo: Getty Images

Total games won: 1
Total prize earnings: $15,401

A Realtor from California, Zerg had the distinction of toppling Jeopardy!’s most famous contestant after seven months of his domination — a feat aided by Jennings getting both Daily Double clues wrong. “I thought, Somebody is going to beat him, and it might as well be me,’’ she later explained. “I watched some of the other players’ attitudes, and they lost the game in the parking garage before they even got to the studio.” Zerg went on to lose her very next game by a significant margin.

Victoria Groce, who defeated David Madden after a 19-win, $430,400 streak

Total games won: 1
Total prize earnings: $23,801

The Georgia musician thwarted Madden’s journey to reach the 20-Something Club, thanks to her careful Final Jeopardy! wager in the Ranks & Titles category. (Fun fact: Madden was a graduate student living in Berlin at the time and pissed off his professors with his long absence.) “I’m genuinely interested in almost everything under the sun,” Madden said about his success. “I’d run through facts in my head to make them stick, sometimes with mnemonic devices.” Groce finished last in her next game.

Brian Loughnane, who defeated Julia Collins after a 20-win, $428,100 streak

Photo: Jeopardy!/NBC

Total games won: 1
Total prize earnings: $24,600

A Final Jeopardy! clue about literature aided Collins’s demise — she bet it all and lost — with Loughnane, an investment manager from Massachusetts, sliding in as the victor. He immediately lost his next game, while Collins did a lovely press tour about the show’s girl power. “If it helps dispel the idea that women aren’t as good Jeopardy! players as men, that would be great,” she said. “It’s good to see women being applauded for being smart.”

Michael Baker, who defeated Matt Jackson after a 13-win, $411,612 streak

Total games won: 1
Total prize earnings: $17,201

Late-night shows lost some premium content after Jackson’s defeat: He was known for the slow, creepy smiles he delivered when the camera panned in on him. (Yup, we have a GIF for you.) “It is pretty hard to wrap my mind around,” Jackson said of his winning streak. “A returning champion finds out pretty quickly that Jeopardy! is actually, under the surface, an endurance contest.” Baker, a travel editor from New York, was eliminated — sensing a trend here? — by a close margin in the following game.

Scarlett Sims, who defeated Austin Rogers after a 12-win, $411,000 streak

Photo: Jeopardy!/NBC

Total games won: 1
Total prize earnings: $34,201

Rogers, a certified-fresh fan favorite, lost to Sims by a mere $51 — those pantomimes were gone, but definitely not forgotten. “Jeopardy! is a game show. Games are fun. There’s this weirdly intense ethos of gravitas applied to Jeopardy!” Rogers told us about his style. “It’s not a hearing at the Hague. It’s not a session of the NATO joint chiefs. It’s a game show meant to entertain. So why not have fun on it?” The stay-at-home-mom from Tennessee promptly lost in her second game.

Diana Peloquin, who defeated Arthur Chu after an 11-win, $297,200 streak

Photo: Jeopardy!/NBC

Total games won: 1
Total prize earnings: $17,700

Chu, who ruffled a few feathers with his unconventional (and often brusque) “bounce” style of game play, was edged out by Peloquin thanks to a Final Jeopardy! clue about the British monarchy. “I was really interested in his playing style. I wanted to engage with that, and I had lots of time to study,” the Maryland law student said after her win. “I really admired his playing style while watching his games, so I was surprised that there was such a backlash to it.” She — surprise — didn’t win another game after this.

Erin Delaney, who defeated Buzzy Cohen after a nine-win, $164,603 streak

Photo: Jeopardy!/NBC

Total games won: 2
Total prize earnings: $54,999

The snazziest Jeopardy! dresser in recent memory lost to Delaney, an English professor from California, before he could get to the double-digit-win tier. She credited her victory to hard work and the opportunity to observe Cohen before their face-off. “I was excited to play against him,” she later said. “He was a great competitor.” Cohen also told us after his run: “There was definitely a very polarized reaction to me. My defense of myself, I guess, is this is who I am. Short of being in court, I’m always injecting my personality into stuff.” Unlike the previous megachamp conquerors, Delaney earned another round of success, winning two games in total.

Mark Japinga, who defeated Ben Ingram after an eight-win, $177k streak

Photo: Jeopardy!/NBC

Total games won: 4
Total prize earnings: $113,600

Japinga, a bona fide Vulture contributor, earned himself the niche title of the most successful contestant to unseat a prominent champion, decisively winning three more games after beating Ingram and his smooth southern drawl. “People ask a lot if appearing on Jeopardy! has been a lifelong goal, to which I say, sort of,” Japinga said upon his eventual loss. “I’m not an obsessive viewer by any means. I’ve always enjoyed Jeopardy! and have always been good enough at trivia.”

Jelisa Castrodale, who defeated Roger Craig after a six-win, $230,200 streak

Total games won: 1
Total prize earnings: $40,399

Castrodale snuck up on Craig during their Final Jeopardy! round, thanks to an impressive wager in a football-centric category. (Easy for her, as she’s a sportswriter.) “It was like Gladiator,” Castrodale, a North Carolina native, later said. “You just sit there helpless, like, I’ve got to face this guy.” She didn’t fare as well in her second game, finishing in last place.

What Happens After You Defeat a Jeopardy! Megachampion?