Justin Bolsen ’26 has been keeping a six-figure secret for a month.
On Thursday night, the pre-taped final episode of Jeopardy!’s high school reunion tournament aired. Bolsen emerged victorious, winning the $100,000 grand prize and a spot in Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions this fall, where he will be the youngest player in the game, according to a Jeopardy! press release.
Bound by confidentiality until the episode aired, Bolsen told The Herald that obscuring his victory from family and friends wasn’t easy — though it was still less of a challenge than during his first run on the show in 2019.
“It’s been crazy keeping this from everyone for a month,” he said. “I’ve even kept it from my parents.”
“People have been trying to get it out of me since I’ve been back, but I’ve been misleading them and trying to throw them off the whole time,” Bolsen added.
Thursday’s episode was part of a two-round tournament finale with Bolsen, Jackson Jones, a Vanderbilt University junior and Maya Wright, an Emory University senior. The tournament’s victor was determined based on which student had the highest combined score from both games.
Bolsen was down by roughly $10,000 at the end of the first part of the finale, which aired Wednesday night.
“It was crazy. I missed the final Jeopardy! question,” he said. “It was a state capital question: What is Dover?”
Bolsen’s margin of victory over Jones in Thursday’s game was just $363, which hinged on a successful answer — “What is the Eiffel Tower?” — to the Final Jeopardy! question, as well as a sizable bet.
“I was in a place where I had to bet everything, so it was basically all riding on me being able to get that last question,” Bolsen said. “When I saw the clue pop up, I was like, ‘I know this,’ and it started coursing through my mind. I knew I couldn’t show excitement on my face, but that’s when I knew it was over.”
Bolsen had to be “super aggressive with betting (his) money” in order to win, which he said is a different approach from most contestants, who “are conservative in wagering because they don’t want to lose their money.”
“I just throw everything out there,” Bolsen said. “And it worked well.”
According to Caleb Richmond, a tournament semi-finalist and Georgetown University sophomore, “Justin is a strong and confident competitor who’s not afraid to bet big and doesn’t show stress in the high-pressure studio environment.”
“I’ve never played directly against him, and I consider myself lucky for that,” Richmond added.
“He is such a strong competitor,” said Jones, who placed second in the tournament. “He’s ridiculously smart, fast on the buzzer and he’s always calm during the game. Competing against him is honestly intimidating, but it’s nice competing against someone I consider a good friend.”
According to Bolsen, competing on Jeopardy! “is like blacking out.”
“I don’t remember anything,” he said. “When I’m watching tonight’s episode, I’ll be remembering the stuff that happened in the game as everyone else sees it.”
For Bolsen, who receives financial aid from the University, winning the $100,000 prize “is a huge deal.”
“It’s more money than my household makes in a year,” he said. “The money doesn’t feel real right now, but I’m sure when I actually receive it and start to deal with it, things will be different.”
At the end of the day, Bolsen “feels so incredibly lucky (and) excited” about his victory.
Richmond told The Herald he admires Bolsen for his “strong balance between confidence and humility.”
“Over the past four years, I’ve been lucky to be his friend,” he added. “Knowing Justin, he won’t let Jeopardy! go to his head and he’ll continue to be humble, caring and kind.”
Sofia Barnett is a University News editor overseeing the faculty and higher education beat. She is a sophomore from Texas studying history, politics and nonfiction writing.