Former "Jeopardy!" contestant talks incredible run by current show champion

Sheldon Lewis II was a contestant last April

Mike Baggerman
April 25, 2019 - 8:13 pm

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (WBEN) - As James Holzhauer continues his incredible "Jeopardy!" run with a 16-day earnings of $1,225,987, including $90,812 on Thursday night, we caught up with a past contestant with ties to Western New York to go over the incredible streak.

Sheldon Lewis II, a South Buffalo native who attends Rochester Institute of Technology, was on the network game show last April as part of the "Jeopardy! College Championship".

"James Holzhauer has been incredibly impressive because he's been using the strategy that we're all afraid to use but we would love to use," Lewis told WBEN in a phone conversation. "We sit at home and say 'I would bet everything', but he's actually doing that. It's increasingly impressive."

Holzhauer finished third when he was on the show last year and reflected on his time as a competitor. Lewis thought about following Holzhauer's method but lacked the "buzzer strength" to compete on the same level as Lewis. Ringing the buzzer on the show isn't as easy as waiting until host Alex Trebek finishes the "answer".

"There are lights on the side of the board you can't see," Lewis explained. "Those lights come on and you have to guess when those lights come on because if you press right after they come on, you'll be fast, but not as fast as you need to be. You have to be ready as soon as Alex finishes but before those lights come on. Most every Jeopardy! contestant is a speed reader. We read through the clue and then we let Alex finish it and we're hearing that. As we hear him say the last word we're getting ready to hit the button."

Lewis remembered being awe-struck when he was on the show last year. A lover of game shows since he was a kid, he called it a "dream" being on the show.

"Getting in front of that board, seeing Alex Trebek, having him poke behind the stage...as he actually walked out, my mind just kind of snapped into game-mode," Lewis remembered. "It was weird being so in-tune but not in-tune. I remember after my game watching it and dealing with people online as they were criticizing how the game went. A big criticism was that we missed a lot of clues and we were all thinking that during the game. We were very nervous and we were the first game."

Yelling the answers to the Jeopardy! questions might be a lot easier from the couch, but Lewis said that's the best way to prepare for the game.

"I don't think you can practice for the knowledge," he said. "I think you can only buff what you know and pick up what you don't."

Despite being a huge fan of game shows, Lewis said past contestants are not allowed on the show unless they're invited again in the future.

While Holzhauer is on a legendary run on the show, he'll always be compared to Ken Jennings, who won 74 straight games in 2004 and $2.5 million in the process. When asked who he thought would win between Holzhauer, Jennings, and Matt Jackson, Lewis guessed Jennings, but barely.

"Ken has been practicing buzzer for years and knows what he's doing on that," Lewis said. "Matt's a dominant player. His knowledge base is of the top-tier, but he could never beat him on the buzzer and I don't think James Holzhauer could either. I think they would definitely trade blows...Ken has been watching this run and he's building up a new strategy."

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