JEOPARDY! contestant Sean Holloway took on Cris Pannullo, the reigning champion and former professional poker player who showed no signs of folding last week.
But Cris made Sean – who otherwise had a great experience – “afraid of him” with one intense move before they faced off.
Sean, a software engineer originally from Kansas City, put on his game face – earning a respectable $7K on October 4th’s episode.
He faced Jacqueline Liao – an engineer from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – and the returning champ, whom some are comparing to James Holzhauer for his huge wagers and massive wins.
Cris – himself a customer success operations manager from Ocean City, New Jersey who’s revealed his professional poker past, like Holzhauer – won against Sean and has kept winning, now with $221K total and seven victories.
Sean exclusively told The US Sun that before Cris takes the stage, he is not looking to mingle.
‘HE SAT SEPARATELY FROM EVERYONE’
Sean said: “By the time we got to rehearsal I think we [the other contestants] knew he was returning champion.”
He told The US Sun Cris did not make that distinction subtle and sat alone before they played.
“He was very nice, very polite but he did sit separately from everyone else.”
“He was quiet and it was hard to get a read on him.”
Most read in Entertainment
Sean, Jacqueline and Cris were first brought to the Wheel of Fortune set (which is the studio lot next door to Jeopardy!) before their rehearsal and show.
The frontrunner who some fans think may keep winning not only did not speak to his competitors but, per Sean, was apart from the pack more literally.
“He just sort of was off on his own, across from our section of seating, at the other end of that section of seating.”
“I don’t mean to paint him as distancing himself, I think he just was in the zone, as a lot of us were.”
JUST LIKE JAMES?
That strategy, even if it may come off as a little unfriendly, is clearly working for Cris.
“He was so fast, it was crazy, there were maybe 20 questions that I buzzed in on that he beat me to it,” Sean told The US Sun after his episode aired.
Cris also takes after James in more than just the professional poker category, the recent contestant revealed.
Sean said Cris had studied the buzzer stance that James used, with his arms crossed to buzz faster.
It was created by Fritz Holznagel, who wrote the book Secrets of The Buzzer, the bible James swears by.
“There’s a specific stance with the arms crossed – the Secrets of the Buzzer book James used – both Jacqueline and Cris had the stance,” Sean said.
Cris currently buzzes in on 63% of all clues, has an accuracy of 94%, and has a stellar 15/17 on Daily Doubles – the randomly placed clues where players pick their wagers.
It’s the same way “Jeopardy! James” often widened his lead and won his 32 games in 2019, and millions of fans for his lightning-fast abilities.
‘A LITTLE TOO HARD’
Sean also agreed that the game’s Final Jeopardy – a triple stumper that fans had said as it aired was too difficult in 30 seconds – was unreasonable.
It read: “Like the TUV in Tuvalu, this landlocked country has 3 consecutive letters in its English name in alphabetical sequence.”
During the October 4th episode, Cris looked confused, as did Sean – they both spent much of the time gazing up seemingly lost in thought.
None of them got the rough riddle that seemed to involve geography – figuring out landlocked countries in Asia – and linguistics in just 30 seconds.
Jacqueline wrote down ‘Mongolia’, Sean wrote down ‘Kyrgyz’ and Cris ‘Tajikistan’ – one by one, Ken Jennings, 48, let them down easy.
The correct response was “Afghanistan” the host explained, as the ‘fgh’ are alphabetically chronological.
One Redditor roared: “I’m sorry. If at least one person can’t get Final Jeopardy the question is too esoteric.”
Another agreed after it aired: “Yeah, this is one that’s super easy if you have a minute or two, but very difficult to figure out in 30 seconds.”
Sean agreed as well: “I do think it might have been a little too hard, unless it comes to you immediately it is iterating over two lists.”
“You have to go through each country and then go through their letters, it is a really tough one.”
‘ALMOST A NIGHTMARE’
The whopper of a Final Jeopardy was also even harder before the producers reigned it in, Sean claimed, mercifully giving the category of “Countries in Asia” – they almost didn’t.
Sean said: “Ken mentioned they weren’t even going to specify it to Asia so it was made easier from the original version.
“Or not landlocked, [but] there was some specification that [without it] was going to make it a nightmare.”
The night before, Final Jeopardy asked for five words to be written in 30 seconds.
Some fans think it’s time to at least update to typing instead of hand-writing the last response with a stylus pen, as the average on correct responses in Final Jeopardy has been low this season.
New EP Mike Davies is running with ideas like the “run the category” cash bonus and a new Triple Jeopardy! round in the Celebrity Spinoff, but the show has not discussed reforming Final Jeopardy.
All of that said, the first-timer scored fond memories coming in second place, and said host Ken made everyone feel like a winner.
“Ken was so funny, anytime the cameras were off. I got starstruck, ‘oh jeez its Ken Jennings!'”
“When we did the rehearsal he came in and gave a pep talk, he said: ‘You should be super proud of making it this far, you have nothing to be afraid of.’ He got everyone in good spirits and is very likable.”
“The whole morning was really great, commiserating with the joys, the disappointments, once the game started, everyone was afraid of Cris as well – he immediately showed himself as a powerful player.”
“But it was truly a delight.”
As of this Monday’s $60K win, Cris now has the longest streak of Season 39 and the highest earnings since Ryan Long.
Season 39 of regularly airing Jeopardy! premiered on Monday, September 12th.
It’s the first season that Ken Jennings, 48, and actress Mayim, 46, are officially its dual hosts having been announced as the permanent successors for the late, great Alex Trebek.
Ken and Mayim began regularly filling in for the legendary Alex in 2021 after his tragic 2020 passing at age 80 and a whirlwind of Season 37 celebrity guest hosts.
Ken is hosting episodes airing until January and is also presiding over the new Second Chance Tournament airing later this month and the subsequent, heavier Tournament of Champions.
Mayim started hosting the spinoff Celebrity Jeopardy! on Sundays on September 25th and is hosting the regular show in the new year.
Sean said his pick for the upcoming Tournament of Champions is Amy Schneider and Matt Amodio.
“I have a good feeling about Matt Amodio to do the big wagers that it takes.”