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"Jeopardy!" Mints a Millionaire

by Joal Ryan
Jul 14, 2004, 10:45 AM PT

One of these days, Ken Jennings will lose on Jeopardy!

We think.

The 30-year-old mild-mannered software developer notched his 30th consecutive win on Tueday's show, surpassing $1 million in Alex Trebek-anointed earnings.

To date, Jennings, who debuted on the quiz show June 2, has supplied more than 1,000 correct responses (framed in the form of a question), averaged more than $33,000 in each nightly conquest, twice pulled in $52,000 (tying the Jeopardy! single-day record) and amassed precisely $1,004,960 in not-so trivial wealth.

He has blown past the previous Jeopardy! win streak, set last January by one Tom Walsh, who picked up $184,900 during a comparatively measly seven-show run.

Currently, Jennings is about $150,000 shy of Jeopardy!'s all-time earnings champ, Brad Rutter, who answered his way to $1.16 million in the 2002 tournament of champions.

On Tuesday's show, Jennings was his usual unflappable self, commanding the video board and making the competition a one-man affair--although one of his outmatched opponents did manage to briefly show off her knowledge of the Vandals, the roaming horde of the Middle Ages, not the punk band.

Per TVgameshows.net, Jennings was 43 for 46 in questions he attempted to answer (or, answers he attempted to supply correct questions for). He ended the night with $32,000, after proving mortal and losing a $14,000 wager on the Final Jeopardy! question about New York Times headline sizes.

Jennings will look to make easy work of another two challengers Wednesday--his quiz master-in-residence status made possible by a rule change last fall that removed Jeopardy!'s heretofore five-show limit on winners.

According to TVgameshows.net, Jennings is only the third player in the history of TV game shows to score at least 30 wins. He'll need to score at least 13 more to tie Tic Tac Dough "legend" Thom McKee for the most wins ever, the site says. McKee logged his 43 glory days in 1980 opposite host Wink Martindale.

And Jennings will need to make like Joe DiMaggio and continue his win streak for another 36 shows, TVgameshows.net estimates, to top all-time game-show prize king Kevin Olmstead, who won $2.2 million on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? in 2002.

Since Jennings began his winning ways, ratings for the indefatigable Jeopardy!, now in its 20th season in nightly syndication, are up 28 percent, per the New York Times.

As Jennings was said to have remarked on one episode, "Being a nerd really pays off sometimes."

Indeed, on Monday, Jennings achieved iconic pop-culture status when he was tapped to present a Top Ten list on CBS' Late Show with David Letterman. The topic: "Top Ten Ways to Irritate Alex Trebek." (Number eight: "Buzz in without using your hands.")

If Jennings has the fame and the fortune, he has not yet copped the attitude. The Times says the devout Mormon from Salt Lake City, Utah, has vowed to tithe his game-show bounty.

Jennings first put his Trivial Pursuit skills to use as a member of Brigham Young University's College Bowl team in the 1990s. He currently edits literature questions for the National Academic Quiz Tournament.

And according to the Jeopardy! folks, Jennings is just a regular guy ("with a great personality") who enjoys nesting with his wife, young son and dog, Banjo, as well as acrylic painting.

He's also big on modesty.

Jennings recently told the Associated Press that he's not really doing anything special. Said Jennings: "A lot of it is just God-given memory that I can't take any credit for."


Andrew Like-Slettuce

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