Who is Ben Sasse?
This time, it was the answer — and nobody knew it.
Not Robin Falco, a nonprofit administrator from King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. Not Tyler Lee, an international banking project manager from Hollis, New York. And, notably, not James Holzhauer, a professional sports gambler from Las Vegas.
None of them could tell the good-natured Canadian man the name of the senator from Nebraska and author of “Them: Why We Hate Each Other — and How to Heal.” Not even if the inquisitor had paid them.
Indeed, he would have.
For this was Jeopardy! and there was $2,000 worth of loot on the line. Yet, several seconds passed in silent suspense, until, finally, host Alex Trebek informed them, with but a faint trace of concern, that the correct answer was Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb.
Had it been any other crop of contestants, it may have ended there, just another missed piece of trivia in the show’s decades-long history. But this group included Holzhauer, the man who has been called “unstoppable,” “dynamic, “coldblooded,” “absolutely insane” and “a cyborg” for his record-setting Jeopardy! dominance.
And even he couldn’t tell Trebek the name of first-term senator, one of just 100 Americans who serve in that chamber. Brent Scher, a writer for the Washington Free Beacon, pointed this out on Twitter.
“The most impressive champion in @Jeopardy history had no damn clue who Ben Sasse was,” he wrote.
Holzhauer’s knowledge of obscure, niche factoids has allowed him to answer nearly 700 questions correctly and has won him more than a million dollars. He has identified 19th-century novels and 20th-century literary figures, superheroes and stamps. But somehow a sitting U.S. senator wasn’t on his radar.
To be fair, though, a lot of people don’t know about Sasse.
Nearly a quarter of registered voters, according to Morning Consult, which found 24 percent of people polled said they hadn’t heard of Sasse. (Though, 49 percent of people viewed him favorably, more than 20 percent higher than those who viewed him unfavorably.)
As senators go, 24 percent is about middle-of-the-road. It could be worse. He could be Gary Peters, D-Mich., whom 43 percent of registered voters didn’t know (and who would have inspired an even tougher question: He’s the junior senator from Michigan and the great grandson of a Civil War soldier…).
But if the question had been about Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., Halzhauer — and many other Americans — would have likely buzzed in right away. Just 7 percent of voters in the same Morning Consult poll hadn’t heard of Sanders.
The Washington Post contacted Sasse’s office on Wednesday afternoon for comment on the slight. At the time, though, the senator was a little preoccupied questioning Attorney General William Barr about a Russian oligarch’s influence over U.S. elections.
However, as the hearing ended, Sasse offered a game show rebuttal: “i’ll take ‘uncomfortable awkward silences’ for a thousand dollars, Alex …” he wrote on Twitter.
The missed question joins a scant list of just over 30 others that Holzhauer either got wrong or didn’t know (New York Magazine has diligently chronicled each one and packaged them into a take-home quiz). There, Sasse finds himself in the company of Panic at the Disco, “Pulp Fiction,” lake monsters and the Quakers, among others.
To date, Holzhauer has won 20 straight games and has obliterated the single-game earning record. He seems destined to topple Jeopardy! savant Ken Jennings’ records for most winnings and most consecutive games won — that is, unless another mysterious Midwestern senator stands in his way.