Adam Levin is enjoying his time in the spotlight. He answered his phone in the sports communications office at Brandeis University Tuesday morning just like he always had before. No call-screeners. He was upbeat and conversational.
Only this time it was different. On Tuesday, Levin, 46, was being hailed as the contestant who nearly took down the great James Holzhauer, the prolific Jeopardy returning champion who has drawn national attention and fame for winning 18 straight matches and just over $1.3 million.
“I wish I had more time to talk to you,” Levin told Tiebreaker.com. “I’ve been so busy today speaking to friends and family and other media. I have to get back to my real job. Maybe if you think I’m still interesting, you can call me back tomorrow.”
You can understand why he didn’t have much time to talk.
Brandeis, which is located in Waltham, Mass., fields 19 Division III varsity athletic programs. The Judges compete in the University Athletic Association with Carnegie Mellon, Case Western Reserve, Emory, New York University, the University of Chicago, the University of Rochester and Washington University (St. Louis).
As the sports information director, Levin is in charge of handling press briefings and media interview requests for all his school’s teams. On Tuesday, he was planning a university alumni function like everyone else in the athletic department was.
Of course, we have talked about Holzhauer before. He’s the guy from Las Vegas who makes his living as a professional sports gambler. He’s 34 and unequivocally brilliant, a savant who seemingly knows everything about everything.
He has turned America’s most beloved game show host, Alex Trebek, into a fawning fan. And he’s turned the game into his personal slot machine. For nearly the last month, all he’s been hearing are bells and whistles.
Then on Monday, Levin came along, fulfilling his life’s dream of being a contestant on Jeopardy. And Levin decided to play the game like Holzhauer has done, boldly and bravely, risking large amounts of money with the intention of winning large amounts. He said he did the best he possibly could have done, basking in his time on the show.
As it turned out, Levin came within $18 of knocking off Holzhauer. The duel came down to the Final Jeopardy question, something only one other contestant had been able to do before against Holzhauer.
“It’s been so awesome for us,” said Tom Rand, the senior associate director of athletics at the university. “He was sworn to secrecy so none of us had any idea how he was going to do. Then a few weeks ago, when that champion started winning and catching national headlines, we were all wondering if he would be playing against Adam because he had told us what the day of his airing (April 29) would be.”
Here was the Final Jeopardy question from the category “Organizations.”
“The oldest of these business booster groups, formed in Marseille in 1599, uses ‘de’ instead of ‘of’ in the name.” Each correctly wrote: “Chamber of Commerce.”
Levin trailed Holzhauer by $6,517 heading into Final Jeopardy. Holzhauer wagered $20,500 and Levin bet $26,999. Holzhauer finished with $54,017, just ahead of Levin, who took in $53,999, the highest non-winning total in show history, according to thejeopardyfan.com.
By finishing second, Levin won only $2,000. He taped the show during the winter in Los Angeles.
Rand said he wasn’t surprised Levin played so well. The university held a viewing party Monday night in its trophy room.
“There was a good amount of our coaches, administrators and student-athletes there, as well as many of Adam’s family and friends,” Rand said. “I can tell you he’s very, very good at trivia and very intelligent. He was right in his element.”
Meanwhile, Holzhauer has now won $1,329,604 coming into Tueaday’s game. He trails only past champion Ken Jennings on the all-time winnings list. Jennings won more than $2.5 million during a 74-game winning streak in 2004.
If he continues to win money at his current pace, Holzhauer, who has been correct on 17 of his final 18 Final Jeopardy questions, will surpass Jennings in 34 games.