Kenneth Wayne "Ken" Jennings III (born May 23, 1974) is an American game show contestant and author. Jennings holds the record for the longest winning streak on the U.S. syndicated game show Jeopardy! and as being the second highest-earning contestant in game show history. In 2004, Jennings won 74 Jeopardy! games (in a row) before he was defeated by challenger Nancy Zerg on his 75th appearance. His total earnings on Jeopardy! are $3,196,300, consisting of $2,520,700 over his 74 wins, a $2,000 second-place prize in his 75th appearance, a $500,000 second-place prize in the Jeopardy! Ultimate Tournament of Champions, a $100,000 win for second-place prize in the Jeopardy Battle of the Decades, as well as half of a $300,000 prize in the IBM Challenge, when he competed against Watson.
During his first run of Jeopardy! appearances, Jennings earned the record for the highest American game show winnings. His total was surpassed by Brad Rutter, who defeated Jennings in the finals of the Jeopardy! Ultimate Tournament of Champions (first aired on May 25, 2005), adding $2,000,000 to Rutter's existing Jeopardy! winnings. Jennings regained the record after appearing on several other game shows, culminating in an appearance on Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? (first aired on October 10, 2008), though Rutter retained the record for highest Jeopardy! winnings and once again passed Jennings' total after his victory in the 2014 Jeopardy Battle of the Decades tournament.
After his success on Jeopardy!, Jennings wrote about his experience and explored American trivia history and culture in his book Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs, published in 2006.
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 American Forces Network television while growing up.
Jennings went to Seoul Foreign School where he completed an International Baccalaureate diploma and then graduated with a degree in Computer Science and English at Brigham Young University, where he played on the school's quizbowl team for three and a half years. Jennings attended the University of Washington during his freshman year.
Before 2003, Jeopardy! contestants were limited to five consecutive games. At the beginning of the show's twentieth 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 $186,900 in eight games in January 2004.
Before his Jeopardy! appearance, Jennings was a member of BYU's Quiz Bowl Team. Jennings' run began during Jeopardy!'s 20th season with the episode aired on June 2, 2004, in which he unseated 2-time returning champion Jerry Harvey, and continued into season 21. In that first episode, Jennings's entire winning streak nearly ended before it even began. The Final Jeopardy answer was, "She's the first female track & field athlete to win medals in 5 different events at a single Olympics." Jennings responded with "Who is Jones?", referring to Marion Jones (the shows were recorded before she was stripped of her medals as a result of admitted doping). Host Alex Trebek said, "We will accept that, in terms of female athletes, there aren't that many." If the response had not been accepted, Jennings would have finished in 3rd place, and challenger Julia Lazarus would have won the game instead. Jennings' run was interrupted by the off-season break in July until September, 2004 Kids' Week, the Tournament of Champions (aired from September 20, 2004 through October 1, 2004), the 2004 U.S. Presidential Election (aired on Tuesday November 2, 2004, pushing his weeks of episodes to air from Wednesday to Saturday) and the College Championship (aired from November 10, 2004 through November 23, 2004). He did not participate in the Tournament of Champions, as invitations are only extended to champions who have already been defeated (with the exception of the winner(s) of the College Championship), which Jennings had not yet been.
On November 30, 2004, Jennings' reign as Jeopardy! champion ended when he lost his seventy-fifth game to challenger Nancy Zerg. Jennings responded incorrectly to both Double Jeopardy! Daily Doubles, causing him to lose a combined $10,200 ($5,400 and $4,800, respectively) and leaving him with $14,400 at the end of the round. As a result, for only the tenth time in 75 games, Jennings did not have an insurmountable lead going into the Final Jeopardy! round. Only Jennings and Zerg, who ended Double Jeopardy! with $10,000, were able to play Final Jeopardy! as third-place contestant David Hankins failed to finish with a positive score after Double Jeopardy!.
The Final Jeopardy! category was Business & Industry, and the clue was "Most of this firm's 70,000 seasonal white-collar employees work only four months a year". Jennings appeared perplexed during the time allowed to write a response, while Zerg finished her response quickly. Zerg responded correctly with "What is H&R Block?" and wagered $4,401 of her $10,000, giving her a $1 lead over Jennings with his response still to be revealed. Jennings incorrectly responded with "What is FedEx?", and lost the game with a final score of $8,799 after his $5,601 wager was deducted from his score. After his response was revealed to be incorrect, the audience audibly gasped. He was awarded $2,000 for his second-place finish, which gave him a final total of $2,522,700 for his run on Jeopardy!. Zerg, whom Jennings called a "formidable opponent", finished in third place on the next show. The audience gave a standing ovation in honor of both contestants, and Trebek called Zerg a "giant killer" as Jennings embraced her.
Jennings' 75 matches took place over a span of 182 calendar days.
Jeopardy! implemented some backstage changes during Jennings' run. Normally, players only get a short time to practice, but more rehearsal time was added so that the new players could get comfortable with the buzzers. Additionally, the person who managed the buzzer system was changed. In his book Brainiac, Jennings says that the consistency of the original manager's timing had given an increasing advantage to continuing players, and that the change made a noticeable difference in the second season that he was on the show. At one point, announcer Johnny Gilbert stopped announcing Jennings' total wins during the show's opening.
On December 1, 2004, the day after his defeat, Jeopardy! 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 had broken.
Jennings appeared in The Guinness Book of World Records under "Most cash won on a game show."
According to the Nielsen TV National People Meter, Jeopardy!'s ratings were 22% higher during Jennings' run than they were during the same period the previous year. For several weeks of the winnings streak, Jeopardy! was ranked as TV's highest-rated syndicated program. By the end of Jeopardy!'s 20th season several weeks later, the show had surpassed Wheel of Fortune in the ratings but Wheel, which is usually paired with Jeopardy! in programming, also benefited from Jennings' streak.
Jennings has received a good deal of American media coverage. After his 38th 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, once hosted by Regis Philbin. During that guest appearance, Jennings said, "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 Ten List" (Top ten ways to irritate Alex Trebek). He appeared again on the program on the night his final show was televised, in addition to interview segments airing that night on local late evening news programming and on Nightline. Barbara Walters selected Jennings as one of the "Ten Most Fascinating People of 2004" for her twelfth annual ABC News special, which aired on December 8, 2004. While on his media tour following his final game, Jennings taped a segment for Sesame Street. TV Guide featured a segment of "The Top Ten TV Moments of 2004", in which Ken Jennings' loss placed third. On December 1, 2004, A&E aired an episode of Biography on Jennings and other Jeopardy! notables, including Frank Spangenberg and Eddie Timanus.
On December 28, 2004, Sony announced a 15-week, 75-show Jeopardy! Ultimate Tournament of Champions. It featured Tournament of Champions, College Championship, and Teen Tournament winners from the show's 21-year run, as well as over 100 five-time champions. Jeopardy!'s executive producer, Harry Friedman, explained:
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.
The field totaled 145 players including Jennings, who, unlike the other competitors, was automatically placed in the finals. The Ultimate Tournament of Champions offered substantial cash prizes; with a grand prize of $2,000,000 to the winner, $500,000 for the first runner-up, and $250,000 for the second runner-up. Guaranteed prize money was offered to all contestants.
In the final round of the Ultimate Tournament, Brad Rutter decisively defeated Jennings and Jerome Vered, with respective final scores of $62,000, $34,599, and $20,600. Jennings won the $500,000 prize for second place, but as a result of the Ultimate Tournament, Rutter temporarily displaced him as the highest overall winner of money on a game show. Jennings has said he is still happy with his second-place finish.
From February 14–16, 2011, Jeopardy's "IBM Challenge" featured the computer company's Watson against Jennings and Rutter in two matches played over three days. The winner of the competition was Watson, winning $1 million for two charities, while Jennings was second and Rutter was third, receiving $300,000 and $200,000, respectively. Jennings and Rutter each pledged to donate half of their winnings to charity.
This was the first ever man-versus-machine competition in the show's history. At the end of the first episode, in which only the first match's Jeopardy! Round was aired, Rutter was tied with Watson at $5,000, while Jennings was in third with $2,000. After the second episode in which the first game was completed, Jennings remained at third with $4,800 while Rutter at second had $10,400. The competition ended with Watson with $77,147, Jennings with $24,000, and Rutter with $21,600. Below his response during the Final Jeopardy! Round, Jennings wrote on his screen "I for one welcome our new computer overlords." It was the first time Rutter had been defeated against any human player, although the defeat is not on Rutter's Jeopardy! official record, as the competition was deemed an exhibition.
In 2014, Jeopardy! aired a special 5-week Jeopardy! Battle of the Decades tournament. Jennings made it to the finals along with Brad Rutter and Roger Craig. Jennings placed second, winning a $100,000 prize, and Rutter won first place, securing a $1,000,000 prize.
Taking advantage of the notoriety that Jennings's losing Final Jeopardy! answer afforded, H&R Block offered Jennings free tax planning and financial services for the rest of his life. H&R Block senior vice president David Byers estimated that Jennings owed approximately $1.04 million in taxes on his winnings.
In a 2011 Reddit IAmA, Jennings recalled how in 2004 the Democratic politicians Chuck Schumer and Harry Reid unsuccessfully asked Jennings to run for the United States Senate from Utah. Jennings commented, "That was when I realized the Democratic Party was [email protected]#$ed in '04."
Jennings has written several books. Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs details his experiences on Jeopardy! and his research into trivia culture conducted after the completion of his run. Ken Jennings's Trivia Almanac: 8,888 Questions in 365 Days, a hardcover book, is a compilation of trivia questions—with 3 categories and about 20 questions per day of the year. Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks explores the world of map and geography enthusiasts. Because I said so! is a humorous examination of 'The myths, tales & warnings every generation passes down to its kids'. He also has written five books for his children's series, Junior Genius Guides. 
Jennings also had a column in Mental Floss magazine called "Six Degrees of Ken Jennings", in which readers submit two wildly different things and he has to connect them in exactly six moves, much in the same vein as the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game. The column ran from November 2005; to the September–October 2010 issue.
According to Variety.com, Jennings and television producer Michael Davies teamed up as executive producers on a new game show format for Comedy Central. According to Comedy Central execs, it was planned that Jennings would co-host and participate. The series was planned to premiere late in 2005 or in the first quarter of 2006; as of April 2006, development had stalled, and the show's future remained uncertain. Jennings explained on his website that "Stephen Colbert's show was doing so well in its post-Daily Show spot that Comedy Central decided they weren't in the market for a quiz show anymore." However, as of mid-2006, he was still shopping a potential game show titled, Ken Jennings vs. the Rest of the World.
Jennings appeared on The Colbert Report on September 13, 2006. During the interview, Colbert discussed Jennings's book, Brainiac, and mocked him not knowing the number of pages the book contained. After Colbert coined a word to describe intellectual nerdiness, "poindexterity", Jennings was going back and forth of what is the correct noun for "poindexter." Jennings noted, as he had done earlier that day on NPR's Talk of the Nation, that since his streak, people "seem to have an extra-hard trivia question" in case they run into him.
He also appeared twice on NPR's Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! program. In his Feb. 25, 2006 appearance on the "Not My Job" segment, he answered all three questions correctly, winning for a listener Carl Kasell's voice on that person's home answering machine. Jennings stated, "This is the proudest moment of my game show life." On June 1, 2013, Jennings made his debut as a panelist on Wait Wait Don't Tell Me.
Entertainment Weekly put his performance on its end-of-the-decade "best of" list, saying, "Answer: A software engineer from Utah, he dominated the quizfest for a record 74 shows in 2004, amassing $2,520,700. Question: Who is Ken Jennings?"
Jennings made the news in July 2006 when an article in the New York Post by Michael Starr criticized Jennings for what Starr perceived as lack of loyalty and gratitude on Jennings' part, citing an open letter to the producers of Jeopardy! and host Alex Trebek that Jennings wrote on his blog. Jennings responded on his blog by explaining that the blog entry was satirical in tone, saying, "[Starr] knows there's no way I was genuinely calling for angry bees and ventriloquist's dummies to be added to the Jeopardy! format. It's a humor piece, and one which gets its laughs from the outrageous non sequiturs it proposes, not the ripeness of its target for criticism." Jennings had already posted a more serious comment defending Trebek that remains on his website.
Jennings appeared on the first two episodes of the NBC game show 1 vs. 100 on October 13 and 20, 2006 as a mob member. He incorrectly answered the question, "what color is the number 1 space on a standard roulette wheel?" as "black" instead of "red" in his second episode, eliminating him from the game. (He explained that he did not know the answer because his Mormon faith prohibits gambling.) He left the show with $714.29, his share of a $35,000 prize shared among 49 Mob members. Jennings returned to the show for a special "Last Man Standing" episode aired on February 9, 2007. He was eliminated on the final question, which asked which of the three options had been married the most times; he answered King Henry VIII, while the correct answer was Larry King. This episode was the first time Jennings had a chance at a rematch against rival Brad Rutter, who was also part of the mob and was eliminated before Jennings.
In 2007, Jennings was invited to be a contestant on the game show Grand Slam hosted by Dennis Miller and Amanda Byram, also a Sony Pictures production. The show debuted on Game Show Network (GSN) on August 4, 2007, and featured sixteen former game-show winners in a single-elimination tournament. Jennings, seeded second behind Brad Rutter, won the tournament and became the 2007 Grand Slam Champion after defeating Ogi Ogas (a second-round winner against Rutter) in the finals. He earned $100,000 for his victory.
Jennings was a contestant on an episode of Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? that aired on October 10, 2008, which held the possibility of exceeding Rutter's total game show winnings. After winning $500,000, enough to surpass Rutter's total, Jennings chose not to attempt the final $1,000,000 question, which would have deducted $475,000 from his winnings if he missed it. As is customary on the show, Jennings was then shown the question to see what would have happened, and he provided the correct answer. Had he risked his winnings and correctly answered the question, he would have become the show's second $1,000,000 winner.
From 2008 to 2009, Jennings appeared on GSN on Fridays for the trivia game Stump the Master. Home viewers send questions via the GSN website. Four callers are put on hold and Jennings selects from one of the categories. The caller for the category he picked comes on the line and reads the question. If Jennings does not answer or is incorrect, the caller wins $1,000 or more. Any time Jennings is right, the jackpot is increased by $1,000. All callers are given a small prize, whether they participate on the air or not.
Jennings also appeared on two other Sony Pictures Television game shows, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, as a frequent expert for the lifeline "Ask the Expert", and also taped a pilot for the proposed 2009 CBS revival of Sony's The $25,000 Pyramid.
Jennings appeared on Millionaire in 2014 as a contestant during Guinness World Records Edition themed week, where he won $100,000 after deciding to walk away on his $250,000 question. If he had gone for it, he would have been right and would have won $250,000.
Jennings won the rookie division of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament (ACPT) in 2006. In his first time competing, Jennings placed 37th overall. He also served as the award's presenter, becoming the first contestant to present an award to himself. He has not competed in the tournament since.
Jennings had a weekly trivia column Kennections in Parade magazine. In it, five questions are posed and their answers are all connected to a mystery topic, which the readers are to guess. Parade ceased publishing the quiz in early 2015, and removed links to archived quizzes in March 2015. Kennections now appear in the online version of Mental Floss magazine.
Every Tuesday, Jennings sends an email out containing seven questions, one of which is designed to be Google-resistant. Subscribers respond with the answers to all 7 questions and the results are maintained on a scoreboard on Jennings' blog. At times he chooses to run multi-week tournaments, awarding the top responder with all 7 answers correct with such things as a signed copy of his newest book.
Jennings again faced controversy when on November 10, 2015 he tweeted a joke about the death of Daniel Fleetwood, a lifelong Star Wars fan who died of cancer. Fleetwood's dying wish was to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens fearing he likely would not live to see the film when it opened in theaters in December 2015. An online campaign was started on his behalf and his wish was granted only days before he died. Jennings said “It can’t be a good sign that every fan who has seen the new Star Wars movie died shortly thereafter.”
Jennings once more faced controversy when on May 31, 2017 he tweeted a joke involving Barron Trump, the youngest child of U.S. President Donald Trump. According to TMZ, after 11-year-old Barron Trump saw an image of Kathy Griffin holding a bloody Trump mask, he believed it was real and screamed. Jennings wrote, "Barron Trump saw a very long necktie on a heap of expired deli meat in a dumpster. He thought it was his dad & his little heart is breaking." After the tweet garnered controversy, Jennings said, "The joke doesn't mock Barron. It mocks using him for political cover."
On September 7, 2017 HowStuffWorks unveiled a new show entitled Omnibus, co-hosted by Jennings and John Roderick , frontman of the indie-rock band The Long Winters. They will pick topics they fear might be lost to history and discuss them.
Jennings agreed to a deal with Microsoft to promote its Encarta encyclopedia software (which was later discontinued). He is also engaged in speaking deals through the Massachusetts-based speakers agency American Program Bureau. In 2005, Cingular Wireless (now AT&T) featured Jennings in commercials portraying him as having lots of "friends and family" (coming out of the woodwork, because he is now "stinking rich").
University Games produced a Can You Beat Ken? board game, in which players vie against each other and Jennings in an attempt to earn $2.6 million first. Each question in the game was asked to Jennings, and his answers, both correct and incorrect, are recorded on the cards.
Jennings currently resides in the Seattle metropolitan area. He has stated that he is an avid comic book and movie geek with a website listing his top 4,000 favorite movies. He also writes questions for, edits the literature and mythology categories of questions of, and is otherwise active in the National Academic Quiz Tournaments (NAQT), a quiz bowl organization; in particular, he moderated (i.e., read questions) at the 2005, 2006, and 2009 NAQT National High School Tournaments in Chicago.
|All-time Jeopardy! winnings leader
|All-time American game show winnings leader
|Biggest Jeopardy! winners by season
Took place over two seasons
1-37 in 2003-04, 38-74 in 2004-05
|Biggest one-day winners on Jeopardy! by season
Brian Weikle, 2002-2003
Jerome Vered, 1992
$34,000 ($68,000 adjusted)
|Biggest one-day winners on Jeopardy!
Roger Craig, 2010
|Biggest Jeopardy! regular play winnings leader