For weeks, Americans have been wondering if anybody could beat seemingly unstoppable Jeopardy! juggernaut James Holzhauer. But the show is recorded months in advance and when she walked into the studio in mid-March, Emma Boettcher, the 27-year-old University of Chicago librarian who defeated Holzhauer in the game that aired Monday night, didn't know who he was. She says she was startled to discover that she would be facing a contestant who had already won more than $2 million. "It was weird to be a daily watcher of Jeopardy! and somehow there’s this phenomenon that I’d never heard of," she tells the New York Times. But she had definitely done her homework: Boettcher focused on Jeopardy! and analyzed more than 20,000 questions for her master's paper for her degree in information sciences, which can be seen here.
Boettcher tells Vulture that she stuck to the strategy that she had already decided on, jumping around the board "so the higher-value clues were taken care of first." After an extremely tight game during which neither Boettcher nor Holzhauer got a single question wrong, she entered Final Jeopardy with $26,600 to Holzhauer's $23,400 and became the new champion when they both gave the correct answer to a question on Shakespeare. Holzhauer—who was less than $60,000 short of Ken Jennings' all-time record of $2.52 million—had made an uncharacteristically small bet of $1,399, which would have given him the win if Boettcher had answered incorrectly and third-place contestant Jay Sexton had answered correctly and bet the $11,000 he entered the round with, the Washington Post reports. Boettcher says Holzhauer, who high-fived her after the win, got in touch weeks later to congratulate her again. (Read more James Holzhauer stories.)