‘Jeopardy’ champ the greatest game-show winner of all time
October 26, 2004
Those of you who read this column must know by now of my annoyance and disdain for television programming. Year after year it’s the same mindless menu of mundane fare guaranteed to give ulcers and induce a full-blown coma before the first commercial.
Just as I was giving up hope on the whole rancid affair, a gentleman named Ken Jennings saved the evening when he started serving up a five-star delight beginning June 2. For those of you not familiar with Mr. Jennings, he is the current reigning “Jeopardy” champion whose five-month stay on the program gives testimony as to what a good education can do for you.
The 30-year-old baby-faced software engineer from Murray, Utah, has been the buzz word in the television world for his infinite knowledge on any subject that Jeopardy host Alex Trebec can throw at him. How any person can know so much on a wide range of subjects in such a short lifetime is beyond belief.
If there is one question I could ask Mr. Jennings it would be: How do you know all this stuff? Early on when Jennings had already blown away about 40 contestants in his first month, Trebec asked him that very question.
“I do a lot of reading,” he said. Reading! So that’s it! The guy reads a lot. Sure, we all read, but the trick in reading is retention. Not only does Jennings have a high retention rate, but it doesn’t hurt that his IQ is 168. Albert Einstein had an IQ of 160, so if Mr. Jennings one night should start spouting off the Theory Of Relativity you’ll know why.
“Jeopardy” premiered on NBC in 1964 and has gone through several hosts and format changes in its 40- year run. Trebec began hosting the show in 1984, but the big change in format came last year when the show’s producer changed the old five-day win rule. Players then had to leave the show after five straight wins; today a contestant can stay until he’s beaten. “Jeopardy”‘s ratings have skyrocketed since Jennings’ appearance on the show, but some longtime “Jeopardy” viewers are starting to voice their displeasure about the program.
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Their big complaint is that Jennings has taken the fun out of the game as each night he soundly trounces his opponents into oblivion. In July a message board was placed on the Internet where “Jeopardy” viewers can post their feelings about the show. So far the board has taken over 9,000 hits where comment about the show has been an even mix of pro and con.
Here’s a sample of what viewers are saying: “Has anyone checked to see if he has a computer chip in his ear, a software engineer knowing most of the answers, something is up.”
“For all you people talking bad about Ken, you’re just jealous of his intelligence.”
“I hate this guy … I used to love this show … but now I can’t even watch it.”
“Ken is the best thing that has happened to this world in a long time.”
“He’s being fed the answers … remember the old quiz shows … can’t wait till the investigation uncovers this and brings the show down.”
There’s no doubt Jennings has an advantage over his opponents not only with knowledge but also his ability to ring the buzzer with the speed of light after five months of experience on the show. Why anyone would want to take this guy on in prime time and show the world that they’re as bright as a 15-watt bulb against him is beyond me.
It can’t be for the money because Jennings always gets most of it every night anyway. Often Jennings will go into final Jeopardy sitting on $30,000 or $40,000 and his opponent has $1,500 and is in a quandary to risk it all or just half, ensuring there will be enough money left for car fare home when he misses the final Jeopardy question.
Co-contestant Patricia Davis had the right idea when she went up against Jennings in final Jeopardy. Her answer was : “Whatever Ken’s answer is.” It brought down the house but unfortunately her answer was not allowed.
On Nov. 3, Jennings became the all-time money winner in the history of television game and quiz shows with his 66th appearance on Jeopardy. His win of over $45,000 on Wednesday pushed his total to $2,197,000, eclipsing the old record of $2.18 million won by Kevin Olmstead on “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” in 2001.
There’s been a rumor floating on the Internet that Jennings was finally beaten in September on his 75th attempt defending his championship.
Because the shows are taped far in advance of their airing we probably won’t know for sure until late November if Jennings was finally dethroned. Jeopardy’s PR people are naturally being tight- lipped when queried about the incident.
If Jennings did make it to 75 consecutive games he would have tied the most appearances by a contestant in TV game show history. Ian Lygo made 75 appearances on the British game show “The 100 Per Cent Show” winning a total of $13,000 before being tossed off the program when viewers complained he was ruining the show.
If Jennings is ruining the fun for Jeopardy viewers the ratings certainly don’t show it. One thing for sure, we won’t see the likes of another like him when he’s gone.
Chic DiFrancia lives in Virginia City and writes occasionally for the Nevada Appeal.