Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
- For other people named Ken Jennings, see Ken Jennings (disambiguation).
Kenneth Wayne Jennings III (born May 23, 1974) holds the record for the longest winning streak and the most money won on the syndicated game show Jeopardy!, as well as other records. Jennings won 74 games before he was defeated by Nancy Zerg on his 75th. His total winnings were US$2,522,700. In addition, Jennings is guaranteed at least $250,000 for his appearance in the finals of the currently ongoing Ultimate Tournament of Champions.
Born in Edmonds, Washington, Jennings grew up in Seoul, South Korea (1981–1992) and Singapore (1992–1996), where his father worked for an international law firm and then as Asia Pacific Division Counsel of Oracle Corporation. He watched Jeopardy! on the American Forces Network television while growing up.
Jennings graduated in Computer Science and English at Brigham Young University (BYU), where he played on the school's quizbowl team for three years. He completed an International Baccalaureate diploma at Seoul Foreign School, and achieved "honors" at both the University of Washington and BYU.
Now residing in Murray, Utah (a suburb of Salt Lake City), Jennings identifies himself as an avid comic book and movie buff with a web site listing his top 2000 favorite movies. He also writes questions and edits the literature and mythology categories for the National Academic Quiz Tournaments (NAQT), a quizbowl organization. He is a software engineer for CHG , a healthcare-placement firm.
He and his wife Mindy have a son named Dylan.
Streak on Jeopardy!
Prior to 2003, Jeopardy! contestants were limited to five consecutive games. At the beginning of the show's 20th season (in 2003), the rules were changed to allow contestants to remain on the show as long as they continued to win. After this rule change, and until Jennings' run, the record winning streak was set by Tom Walsh, who won $184,900 in seven games in January 2004.
Jennings' run began with the episode aired on Monday, June 2, 2004, and spanned two seasons. Since he did not lose before the 2004 Tournament was taped (which then aired from September 20 through October 1), he will have to wait until the 2005-06 season to compete in the Tournament of Champions. In theory, if Jennings’ would have not lost and remained undefeated though the 2005-2006 season, there wouldn’t be a tournament of Champions for that season, because Jennings would be the sole contestant.
On Tuesday, November 30, 2004, Jennings' long reign as Jeopardy! champion finally came to an end when he lost his 75th game to challenger Nancy Zerg, who initially did not appear to be a threat to the champion. The third contestant, David Hankins, completed the Double Jeopardy! round with a negative amount and, thereby, was not allowed to participate in Final Jeopardy! But Jennings proved to be his own worst enemy by 'missing' both Double Jeopardy! Daily Double questions (on which he had placed his usual high wagers) and the Final Jeopardy! question. The Final Jeopardy! category was "Business and Industry". The clue was: "Most of this firm's 70,000 seasonal white-collar employees work only four months a year." The correct response was: "What is H&R Block?". Jennings responded with "What is FedEx?" Jennings' final total was US$2,522,700. Zerg answered correctly, and she and Jennings shook hands and hugged as the audience gave the two of them a standing ovation. Immediately after she won, Alex Trebek dubbed her a "giant killer" for her accomplishment of finally beating the long-standing champ.
Jennings reported in an interview that the loss was "no fluke" and that Zerg was a formidable opponent. Most who saw the show would say this assessment was in keeping with his genial personality, since Zerg never appeared to be a serious contender until Jennings stumbled in the second half. Zerg was defeated the following day, finishing in third place with $2, while Jennings' running time period totaled 182 calendar days, including his first and last appearances.
Along the way, Jennings defeated at least three contestants who are current quizbowl players; in fact, according to a Washington Post article, at least one fellow NAQT employee was selected to appear on the show during Jennings' run (but, as someone with more than a casual acquaintance with Jennings, could not compete against him because of standards and practices rules).
On December 1, the show broke with tradition by having Jennings make a "guest appearance" at the start of the broadcast, during which host Alex Trebek acknowledged his success and enumerated the various game show records he'd broken.
Jennings' winning streak on Jeopardy! has made him something of a celebrity. Jeopardy! ratings went up 62 percent during his run on the show (11.1 million viewers was a ten-year high); for three weeks in July 2004 and for most of the latter part of Jennings' run, it surpassed traditional leader Wheel of Fortune to become television's highest-rated syndicated program.
Other Media Appearances
Jennings has received a good deal of American media coverage. After his 31st win on Jeopardy!, during the summer break between tapings, Jennings made a guest appearance on Live with Regis and Kelly. There Jennings revealed that he had failed to qualify for Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, also hosted by Regis Philbin. During that guest appearance, Jennings said that, "Jeopardy! is a man's game ... it's not like Millionaire."
Jennings appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman to present Letterman's "Top 10 List". He appeared again on the program on the night his final show was televised, in addition to interview segments airing that night on local 11 o'clock news programs and on Nightline. Acknowledging his impact on the American public, Barbara Walters selected Jennings as one of the Ten Most Fascinating People of 2004 for her twelfth annual ABC special, which aired on Wednesday, December 8, 2004. While on his media tour following his final game, Jennings taped a segment for a future episode of Sesame Street.
TV Guide featured a segment of "The Top Ten TV Moments of 2004," in which Ken Jennings' loss placed third.
In late February 2005, Ken appeared in a TV advertisement for Cingular Wireless that featured 'his extended family' wanting his money. Later that year, he appeared in an ad for Allstate insurance company, pondering whether people should pay more money for insurance. (Jennings' answer: "No way.")
When asked what he intended to do with his winnings, Jennings said that he intends to tithe to his church, donate to public television and National Public Radio, go on a trip to Europe, and invest the rest for his family. Jeopardy! contestants typically receive their winnings approximately 120 days after their last game airs in the form of a check. Taking advantage of its fame over the crucial clue, H&R Block offered Jennings free tax and financial services for the rest of his life. H&R Block senior vice president David Byers estimated that Jennings would owe approximately $1.04 million in taxes on his winnings. Combined with a ten percent tithe, this would leave him approximately $1,230,430 to use for other purposes.
"Ultimate Tournament of Champions"
On December 28, 2004, Sony sent out a press release announcing their 15-week, 75-show Ultimate Tournament of Champions. It will feature Tournament of Champions Champions, College Championship, and Teen Tournament winners from the show's 21-year run, as well as over 100 undefeated five-time champions. This will equal a total of 145 players, including Jennings. The Ultimate Tournament of Champions offers a substantial purse, with a grand prize of $2,000,000 to the winner, $500,000 for second, and $250,000 for third. Guaranteed prize money will be offered to all contestants. The tournament has been, and is being taped in early 2005 and the tournament began airing on February 9. The three-day finals will conclude the event on May 23, 24, and 25.
Harry Friedman, Executive Producer of the show, said in the release, "The 2003 rule change, which allows Jeopardy! players to keep playing until they’re defeated, raised the question about how other five-time champions might have played under this rule. This Tournament is an opportunity to give those past champions another chance to shine."
Trivia and Trademarks
- Each day he wrote his name in a different way, with styles ranging from simple (such as cursive script or block letters) to artistic (such as dots or a bas relief outline).
- He kept a plush "Totoro" toy, from the movie My Neighbor Totoro in his pocket, as a good luck charm. Also, he supposedly keeps a little piece of a fan's "popo" (pillow) in his coat pocket.
- He often pronounced foreign words, phrases, or locations with an accent.
- On Final Jeopardy! and the Daily Doubles he almost always wagered an amount that could bring his total to a multiple of $5,000, or at the least a multiple of $1,000. Host Alex Trebek commented on this several times, and he even occasionally "guessed" what wager Jennings would make.
- Prior to his 30th game, Jennings did not want to beat the $52,000 single-day record of former five-day champion Brian Weikle just "for the sake of beating it" (from the Jeopardy! forums). He intentionally tied his record three times. However, in his 38th game, Jennings entered Final Jeopardy! with a total only $600 shy of the record (and, in fact, had exceeded the record in the Double Jeopardy! round before missing a question at the end), and beat it with a final total of $75,000. On his 71st game, he broke the record a second time with a win of $55,099. Jennings has only made three other attempts to break Weikle's $52,000 record (in his 30th, 39th, and 65th games), but incorrect Final Jeopardy! responses prevented him from succeeding.
- He often shook his head in disbelief when his total cash winnings were announced at the start of each episode/game.
- When guessing, he would phrase his responses in such a way as to make it clear he was in doubt of the answer himself, and openly expressed surprise when he gave the correct response.
During his streak, Jennings broke the following records:
|Description||Current Record||Previous Record|
|Most consecutive appearances on Jeopardy!||75 episodes (74 wins, 1 loss)||8 episodes (7 wins, 1 loss) by Tom Walsh, January 5–14, 2004|
|Most total appearances on Jeopardy!, including tournaments||16 episodes by Bob Verini , 1986–2002 (regular season-5x, Tournament of Champions-4x, Super Jeopardy!-3x, Masters Tournament-4x)|
|Most consecutive appearances on a syndicated game show||46 episodes (43 wins) by Thom McKee on Tic Tac Dough, 1980|
|Highest total winnings on Jeopardy! in non-tournament play||US$2,522,700||US$184,900 by Tom Walsh, January 5–13, 2004|
|Highest total winnings on Jeopardy! including tournaments||US$1,155,102 by Brad Rutter , 2001–2002|
|Highest total winnings on a syndicated game show||US$1,155,102 by Brad Rutter on Jeopardy!, 2001–2002|
|Highest total winnings on a game show||US$2,180,000 by Kevin Olmstead on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, 2001|
|Highest total winnings in one game of Jeopardy!||US$75,000 (game 38)||US$52,000 by Brian Weikle, April 14, 2003 (Jennings tied this record three times before he broke it)|
|Highest 5-game total on Jeopardy!, consecutive||US$221,200 (games 34–38)||US$154,200 by Tom Walsh (games 3–7), January 7–13, 2004|
|Highest 5-game total on Jeopardy!, best 5 games||US$286,099 (games 28, 29, 37, 38, and 71)||US$102,597 (adjusted to $205,194) by Frank Spangenberg, January 9–15, 1990 (prior to increase in clue value)|
He also tied the following record:
|Most consecutive appearances on a game show||75 episodes by Ian Lygo on 100%, 1998*|
Four game show records remained that Jennings did not tie or break, only two of which he could possibly break in the future should he be invited to a Tournament of Champions:
|Most wins on a single game show||75 times by Ian Lygo on 100%, 1998*|
|Most consecutive wins on a game show||75 times by Ian Lygo on 100%, 1998*|
|Most opponents defeated on a game show||150 by Ian Lygo on 100%, 1998**|
|Most opponents defeated consecutively on a game show||150 by Ian Lygo on 100%, 1998**|
* Lygo was forced to retire by producer RTL Group.
** In 100%, Lygo faced two opponents per game. Jennings bested 149 opponents during his tenure.
Comprehensive game summaries for each day of Ken Jennings' streak have been compiled here.
Jennings and previous Jeopardy! champions
Jennings won US$156,000 in his first five days on Jeopardy!, so if the five-day rule had not been eliminated, he would still be the all-time non-tournament winner in Jeopardy! history. Sean Ryan was the first to break the record, winning six games in October 2003. The previous record holder, Tom Walsh, won $184,900 in seven days, but only $118,100 of that came in the first five days. No other Jeopardy! contestant has won more than $150,000 in non-tournament play in the first five days.
If winnings are further adjusted to make them comparable to the seasons before the clue values were doubled, Jennings' adjusted total of $78,000 would place him 11th in the Trebek era of Jeopardy!, behind Frank Spangenberg ($102,597) and nine others.
Jennings now also holds most of the top spots in the list of highest single day winnings on Jeopardy!. Prior to Jennings' run, the $50,000 mark had only been reached twice before. Myron Meyer won $50,000 on September 5, 2002, and Brian Weikle won $52,000 on April 14, 2003. Jennings has reached the $50,000 mark eleven times, with wins of $75,000, $55,099, $52,000 (three times), and $50,000 (six times).
Jennings' top score of $75,000 is the highest ever, even if it is adjusted for the seasons before the clue values were doubled. Four contestants finished with scores of $30,000 or higher in the pre-doubling era, led by Jerome Vered 's score of $34,000. Jennings' adjusted total of $37,500 puts him ahead of that mark.
Loss on Jeopardy! and Final Statistics
In a rumor disclosed on Wednesday, September 8, 2004, two sources who were at the taping on September 7, 2004 reported that Jennings had lost on his 75th episode, taped the day before, with total winnings at around $2.5 million. (Jeopardy! tapes five shows per day.) This incident was reported by TV Week and the Associated Press, appearing in hundreds of newspapers across the United States. A few days later, another rumor spread giving out an incorrect first name of the contestant that had beat him. Despite this, Jeopardy! refused to comment.
Later on, it was determined that Ken Jennings did indeed lose as initially reported with the failing episode shown in most cities across North America on Tuesday, November 30, 2004. In an interesting turn of events, the 75th episode was aired early in the Macon, Georgia area (on WMAZ-TV, see here) on Friday, November 26, 2004. The reasoning behind the early airing was reportedly due to a technician running the wrong tape.
To make it more difficult for viewers to keep track of Ken's progress towards his final episode, in early September 2004 the show's announcer, Johnny Gilbert, ceased mentioning the number of games that Jennings had won, as had been the show's custom. However, some people in the studio audience reported that he was still announcing them, possibly meaning those parts had been edited out of the airing. Oddly, however, during the 74th game, which aired on Monday, November 29, Gilbert resumed announcing the number of games.
Jennings broke almost every game show record in his run. Ian Lygo appeared on the British game show 100% 75 consecutive times and won every game until he was forced to retire by the show's producers. After Jennings' 75th show, he tied Lygo's record of 75 consecutive appearances and, with 74 wins, he almost reached Lygo's record of 75 consecutive game show wins.
In the Ultimate Tournament of Champions, Jennings has a chance to break Lygo's record of defeating 150 opponents. During his original run, Jennings defeated 149 opponents. If Jennings wins the three-day final, he would break Lygo's record; a 2nd-place finish would tie Lygo's record.
An audio recording of Final Jeopardy! for Ken Jennings' 75th appearance was posted online on the same weblog, kottke.org, where the initial rumor appeared, but it was removed at the request of lawyers representing Sony. The audio recording removed by Jason Kottke may either have been obtained from the unintentional public airing described above or from a source at a television station who received the program before its broadcast. In addition, Sony lawyers also requested that the summary of the audio recording be removed from the weblog. Kottke was threatened with a lawsuit in the case, a threat that has not yet materialized. The audio clip is still available at the J! Archive, though.
Jennings’ success has resulted in him being a popular individual amongst corporations looking for public endorsers.
H&R Block, the firm named in the answer he 'missed', announced in a press release that they were offering him a deal for free tax preparation and financial services for the rest of his life. According to H&RB statements, Jennings could pay over $1.045 million alone in taxes, more than any quiz show contestant. Jennings accepted the offer, and in another news story, H&RB officials reported that they had offered similar services to other individuals in the past.
Jennings has also agreed to a deal with Microsoft to promote their Encarta encyclopedia software, and has signed a deal with Bertelsmann AG for a book to be published through one of their book divisions in 2005.
He is also engaged in speaking deals through the Massachusetts-based speakers agency, American Program Bureau.
University Games is also producing a Can you Beat Ken? board game to be released in approximately March of 2005.
The SBC Communications and BellSouth joint venture Cingular Wireless LLC has signed Jennings to appear in commercials. The first of these commercials, portraying Jennings as having lots of "friends & family" (coming out of the woodwork, because he is now "stinking rich") started airing in February, 2005.
- The 1991 French sketch-movie "Les Secrets professionnels du Dr. Apfelglück" featured a contestant, Émile Leberc (pronounced "Lebeurk"), played by Roland Giraud , who, better than Jennings, answers every single question at a game show. Trebek's equivalent in the movie, Gérard Martinez, played by Alain Chabat , cannot stand the increasing rudeness and haughtiness of the contestant and tries to get rid of him, using more and more devious ways.
- David Foster Wallace wrote a fictional short story called "Little Expressionless Animals" well before Jennings first appeared on Jeopardy! in which the protagonist is a woman who wins on the show every day for a year. She is eventually defeated by her autistic brother, who has a photographic memory about anything related to animals; knowing this, the producers purposely loaded the board with zoological questions to unseat the uncharismatic woman.
- The movie Quiz Show chronicles the winning streak of Charles Van Doren, who captured the attention of the nation, but was later found out to be a fraud.
There have also been parodies of Jennings' streak:
- On an episode of the FOX sketch comedy Mad TV, Jennings makes an appearance on Jeopardy! Fed up with Jennings' win streak, Alex Trebek shoots the champ in anger, but is horrified when he finds out Jennings is a robot. Before that, Trebek encourages Jennings' opponents to buzz in before the champ can. Jennings' most memorable line: "Must...win...it...all...We don't like Jeopardy!. We prefer the down-home style of Wheel of Fortune." Jennings and Trebek are portrayed by cast members of Mad TV.
- Jeopardy! web site
- Ken Jennings Watch
- JEOPARCHIVE!: An Archive of Jeopardy!'s 20th Season Games
- J! Archive - Show season 21
- Statistics from Jennings' run on Jeopardy! (updated daily)
- Ken's Top 2000 Favorite Movies Page
- The Cult of Ken Jennings
- Daily Ken Jennings updates
- Ken Jennings Fansite
- Ken Jennings Fansite
- Syntax of Things: "This Is Ken!"
- This Is... Jennings!
Groups and forums
- Yahoo! Groups: Ken Jennings
- Official Jeopardy! message boards
- Television Without Pity Forum — Jeopardy!
- "O.K., Alex, Smart Nerds for $1 Million", The New York Times, July 13, 2004
- Jeopardy!'s Jennings sets record, CNN.com, November 4, 2004
- "Ken Jennings' Jeopardy! Streak Ends", USA Today, November 30, 2004
- "Jennings hits Jeopardy! milestone", CNN.com, November 30, 2004
- "Jeopardy! Whiz Jennings Loses", Fox News
- "'Jeopardy!' to hold 'Super Tournament'", Fox News
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