James Holzhauer is the Jeopardy champion who became a household name in 2019 as he shattered records on the trivia show.
Holzhauer’s earnings surpassed $1 million after just 14 wins, the fastest any contestant has reached that milestone. (Ken Jennings took 33 games to reach it in 2004). His total earnings amounted to $2,462,216 with 32 wins. His streak came to an end on June 3, 2019.
Holzhauer set the record for the largest amount won in a single game; in fact, Holzhauer nearly doubled it. He won $131,127 on April 17, 2019. The previous one-day record, held by Roger Craig, had been for $77,000.
In early January 2020, Holzhauer returned to the game show to participate in the “Greatest of All Time” tournament against Jennings and Brad Rutter for a $1 million prize.
Holzhauer is a native of Naperville, Illinois and lives in Las Vegas with his wife and daughter. During his 2019 Jeopardy run, he used the Final Jeopardy rounds to give shout-outs to family members, including a touching tribute to his grandmother.
Here’s what you need to know about Holzhauer’s family.
1. Holzhauer’s Wife, Melissa Sassin, Won Nearly $29,000 On ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’ in 2014
James Holzhauer is married to a fellow trivia champion. Melissa Sassin Holzhauer was a contestant on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” in 2014. Cedric the Entertainer was the host at the time. Sassin had made it to $57,600 when she was asked the following question: “Using secret technology, the new $100 bill has a security strip containing 3D images of what icon?” Sassin said she didn’t know the answer and used a lifeline, asking the audience to weigh in. But the results were scattered and didn’t give her a clear answer. Rather than risk losing all of her money, Sassin decided to walk away with $28,800 in winnings. Her husband shared the episode on YouTube and you can watch it here.
According to her Linkedin profile, Sassin studied Classics and Classical Languages, Literatures and Linguistics as an undergraduate student at the University of Washington. She earned a master’s degree in the same topic from Brown University in 2012.
Sassin describes herself as an “Enthusiastic tutor” on her Linkedin page. Her resume includes a summer spent teaching kindergarten in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and Pattaya, Thailand. She explained her excitement for languages and for teaching by writing, “I am passionate about translation because I believe that language, spoken or written, is a conduit for understanding and that words can bring people together, even though sometimes it takes a few tries to find the right ones! Therefore, I pride myself on being able to explain ideas in several different ways and I don’t give up until my students and I are on the same page.”
Sassin and Holzhauer got married in 2012 and have a daughter. They previously lived in Seattle and her husband’s hometown of Naperville, Illinois. The family now lives in Las Vegas.
2. Older Brother Ian Holzhauer is an Attorney in Naperville, Illinois; He Says James Has Never Needed a Calculator & That James Has Been Donating Part of His Winnings to Children’s Charities
Ian Holzhauer, 36, is an attorney in their hometown of Naperville, Illinois. He is an associate with Nagle Obarski PC and focuses on “estate planning, trusts, probate, higher education-affiliated clients, and business representation” according to his Linkedin profile.
Prior to joining the private sector, Holzhauer served as a military attorney. He was part of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps (better known as JAG) from 2007 through 2014. Holzhauer earned his law degree from Georgetown in 2007. He graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Florida in 2004, where he majored in history.
While his brother James has largely avoided giving interviews during his Jeopardy run, Ian has shed light on James’ history. He told the Chicago Tribune that James exhibited stellar math skills from a young age. He said James never needed a calculator in school because he could work out very large numbers in his head. They both attended Naperville North High School; Ian is two years older than James.
Ian Holzhauer called into WGN Radio on April 22 to talk about James’ Jeopardy run. He stated that his younger brother had “always been the smarter one” growing up. But Ian said James typically got C-grades in math during high school because although he would ace the tests, he never did his homework.
Ian said that James grew up “watching Jeopardy every day.” He added that his brother was already taking his Jeopardy winnings and donating portions of it to various children’s charities.
3. James Holzhauer Grew Up Watching Jeopardy With His Grandmother, Who Moved to the United States From Japan to Help Raise Her Grandchildren
On Wednesday, April 17, James Holzhauer’s 10th straight victory on Jeopardy, he set a new record for the largest amount won in a single game: $131,127. It was also the night that he chose to dedicate his Final Jeopardy shoutout to his grandmother.
The final category was 20th Century Literary Characters. Holzhauer bet $60,013 and correctly answered ‘Who is Atticus Finch?” to the clue “His first name refers to the ancient district in which you’d find the Greek capital; his surname is a bird.” Next to his answer, Holzhauer had written “this is for you granny” with a heart. Alex Trebek asked Holzhauer if his grandmother was still alive to watch; Holzhauer shook his head and pointed to the sky. You can watch that moment in the video embedded above.
The day before this win, Holzhauer told Vulture that he had grown up watching Jeopardy alongside his grandmother. He explained, “Her first language wasn’t English, so she couldn’t follow along well, but she wanted to share this experience with me since she saw it was something I really liked. I promised her I’d one day be up on that stage for her. I don’t promise anything unless I intend to fulfill it.” Holzhauer also told Trebek on the program that his grandmother had moved from Japan in order to help raise her grandchildren.
His brother, Ian, reiterated during an interview with WGN Radio that James loved watching the trivia show every day as they were growing up.
4. Holzhauer Has Said His Parents ‘Frugal’ Lifestyle Taught Him About Value
James Holzhauer is the son of Nachiko Ide Holzhauer and Juergen Holzhauer, who chose to raise their two sons in Naperville, Illinois. Holzhauer told Newsweek that his parents lived a frugal lifestyle and credits that type of thinking for shaping how he lives his own life. “I think they’re responsible for my attitude of always looking for good value, especially in my work,” Holzhauer told the magazine. “In a way, sports betting is like a big game of The Price Is Right: just like I’d pay $3 for a Coke Zero but not $4, I’d lay three points on the Bears-Packers point spread but not four.”
Older brother Ian Holzhauer told the Chicago Tribune that the entire family has enjoyed watching James on Jeopardy together. They gathered to watch James’ debut at their father’s home. Ian says their father lives in the Carillon Club retirement community in Naperville. James has also joked that his father has been getting a lot of attention since his winning streak began, telling NPR, “My dad has never been more popular.”
Holzhauer’s final wager on April 8, $7,030, was in tribute to his father. Juergen Holzhauer’s birthday is July 30, 1941.
5. James Holzhauer Has Sent Special Messages to His Daughter, Nephew & Niece On Jeopardy
In addition to his Final Jeopardy shoutouts, James Holzhauer has also incorporated important family dates when deciding how much to wager. His win on April 9, when he earned 110,914, referenced his daughter’s birthday. She was born on November 9, 2014. He referred to her by her nickname of “Booger” in the shoutout.
The very first family member to get a shoutout was his nephew. Jack Holzhauer was born on March 26, 2008. Holzhauer wagered $3,268 on Final Jeopardy on his first day on the show. Ian Holzhauer, James’ older brother, told the Chicago Tribune that Jack understood the reference.
But Ian’s daughter Katy, who is only 3 years old, is too young to understand. Ian told the newspaper that when they tried to explain to Katy that her uncle had sent her a birthday message, she had just one question: “Where are my presents?”