Is 'Jeopardy' winner James Holzhauer making more per episode than host Alex Trebek?

“James’ performance, I’m sure, is causing grief for an accountant somewhere,” said a TV game show expert.
Image: James Holzhauer, a professional sports gambler from Las Vegas, broke the "Jeopardy!" winnings record on April 17, 2019.
James Holzhauer, a professional sports gambler from Las Vegas, broke the "Jeopardy!" winnings record on April 17, 2019.Jeopardy Productions, Inc. via AP

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
SUBSCRIBE
/ Source: CNBC.com
By Jessica Bursztynsky, CNBC

“Jeopardy” contestant James Holzhauer may be making the game show’s accountants tremble, according to a media report.

Holzhauer, who has been setting records over the past 12 episodes, set a single-show record of $131,127 in winnings, The Atlantic reported. So far, he’s won around $850,000 and is on track to reaching $2.5 million — the record set by Ken Jennings — in half the time. Jennings scored his prize after 74 consecutive wins, and his best one-day tally was $75,000.

Since the average single-show earnings come in around $20,000, the Atlantic looked into how much Holzhauer’s earnings would take out of the show’s budget.

“Typically, for a long-running show the prize budget is determined by way of averages of what has been won in the past,” Bob Boden, former head of programming at Game Show Network, told The Atlantic. “James’ performance, I’m sure, is causing grief for an accountant somewhere.”

Oftentimes, shows take out insurance policies. Usually that’s reserved for shows with rare but high earnings, such as “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” Boden said he doesn’t think “Jeopardy” has the same policy because it usually awards more modest winnings.

But even with a successful contestant, game shows’ budgets usually allocate more to on-air talent and production crews, said Boden. The Atlantic reported longtime host Alex Trebek’s yearly pay is $10 million.

With Holzhauer averaging roughly $71,000 per show, "he is currently out-earning even the show’s host on a per-episode basis," predicted The Atlantic.