Like other trivia nerds and game present superfans, I pertained to my oddball command of truth a useless, superfluous skill. Then we all met Ken Jennings

He was first introduced come the world as “a software engineer indigenous Salt Lake City.” he wore a modest marine jacket, a vast maroon necktie, and also a nervous, unassuming smile. His first name showed up in his own all-caps handwriting at the front of his podium: KEN. When that episode of “Jeopardy!” very first aired, on June 2, 2004, nobody might have recognized the ride Ken Jennings was around to take it America ~ above — or the delight he would administer factoid lovers.

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Jennings won the day. He had actually a slight command entering the final Jeopardy round, and also he knew the surname of the first female track and field athlete to victory medals in five various events at a solitary Olympics (Marion Jones), therefore he finished that first episode through $37,201 in winnings. Jennings won the next day, as well — learning things favor who winner the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1987 (Rita Dove) and the surname of the brand-new Mexico governor who offered to pardon Billy the son (Lew Wallace) — pass his total winning to $59,201. He additionally won the work after that. And the work after that. And the job after that.


it’s Ken Jennings’ critical week together guest organize on ‘Jeopardy!’ who next? Utah computer programmer Ken Jennings currently a trivia symbol

It went on because that weeks. Climate months. Every weekday, for fifty percent an hour, numerous people across the nation tuned in to watch this mild-mannered 30-year-old married father from Utah certain obliterate his fellow contestants ~ above America’s many hallowed game show. Jennings seemed to have actually a bottomless pit that knowledge, and also could recall it all instantaneously. He additionally had a gently sarcastic air about him, a wry grin the hinted he knew something he can not wait to say. The answer inquiries — or, more accurately, due to the fact that on “Jeopardy!” contestants have to answer in the kind of a question, Jennings questioned the answers — v such speed and ease the it felt like watching power art.

“What is Halifax?” “Who is Humpty Dumpty?” “What space the Arabian Nights?”

During his streak, and also in the year since, Jennings has actually become an ext than a quizmaster. V his books, his Twitter presence, and his appearances on subsequent “Jeopardy!” tournaments (and a couple of other game shows), Jennings has come to be the rarest type of celebrity: rich and famous because that just, like, learning stuff. No stuff around successful invest strategies. Not stuff around how to cure a crippling an illness or engineer a more secure vehicle. Just random stuff. His volume to remember and also recall factoids has earned him millions of dollars and also a career together the game display guy.

As I type this, he is the guest host of “Jeopardy!” — the an initial person to was standing at that lectern because the longtime beloved host, Alex Trebek, died in November, after ~ a public fight with cancer. Sony, which own “Jeopardy!” is meant to name the brand-new permanent hold sometime this year. In a field that contains former news anchor Katie Couric and actor LeVar Burton, Jennings is the odds-on favorite.

Jennings has end up being the rarest sort of celebrity: rich and famous because that just, like, learning stuff.

Whether or not he’s the new face that “Jeopardy!,” though, Jennings is currently an symbol for a particular percentage of the population. Because he’s not simply the greatest game display contestant of every time. Ken Jennings is one uncommon impetus for factoid lover everywhere.

Growing up in the ’80s and also ’90s, ns watched “Jeopardy!” just about every day. I inherited mine affinity for game shows from my mom. She’d speak she likes the brain puzzles due to the fact that they save her psychic sharp, but the reality is in our home, knowledge was the highest virtue. Not necessarily the solving-global-problems kind of intelligence. We didn’t spend a ton the time stating canonical literature or classical music or modern-day political theory. No, our family specializes in useless, obscure factoids. I might not have been able to spell the word restaurant until sometime in high school, but as far ago as I can remember, ns savored the chance to prove that ns knew things choose the name of the largest glacier in the world (the Lambert-Fischer Glacier in Antarctica) or the year the Titanic sunk (1912) or the rate of sound (some 767 miles every hour).

As you can guess, this did no make me the most famous kid in school. It no take lengthy to recognize that most of society doesn’t treatment much because that the know-it-all type. If you want to do friends and attract a love interest, obnoxiously reciting trivial knowledge is not the means to execute it. But, in the privacy of a living room, a game display provides the perfect safe room for just this type of know-it-all-ism.

On ailing days or institution holidays, ns basically significant the time by the game display on TV. No matter how bad I felt, ns knew I had “The Price Is Right” come look forward to. Climate “Hollywood Squares,” “Family Feud,” “Supermarket Sweep,” “$100,000 Pyramid” — you obtain the idea. I loved strategizing how I would technique each clue, spin, puzzle, or final round. Ns relished understanding the answer, particularly when the contestant didn’t. I even liked seeing just how fast world could buzz in — occasionally imagining my very own hand hovering over among those large red buttons so numerous game reflects use. Noble or not, “Jeopardy!” was always appointment television. It was regularly what my mom and I would certainly watch while eat dinner, occasionally paired with “Wheel of Fortune.” The roll Royce of video game shows, “Jeopardy!” has actually long been a fixture in our culture. Also the template music is iconic, among the most recognizable tunes in television history. It didn’t take place much, however once in a while i knew an answer my mom didn’t — and I treasured the possibility to impress her. One time, ns remember, as soon as I to be 12 or 13, i somehow named the movie the won the 1990 Oscar for Best picture (“Driving miss Daisy”), and my mother tilted her head and looked in ~ me, genuinely surprised.

Part of the very nice came down to the show’s host, Alex Trebek. Every day, viewers can count ~ above that warmth voice, the gentle way he’d banter v contestants, his perfectly put quips. A lot of game present hosts emit a used-car clerk sleaziness. However that was never Trebek. He always displayed a sweet, respectful decency through everyone that encountered, no matter the score — something we don’t gain a many in life.

In this Oct. 1, 2018, paper photo, Alex Trebek speak in Hershey, Pa. The longtime and beloved host died of pancreatic cancer on Nov. 8, 2020, at period 80. Matt Rourke, linked Press The other appeal of “Jeopardy!” is the sheer knowledge base compelled to compete. Even the worst contestants on the present are among the crème de la crème the trivia geeks. The ideal “Jeopardy!” players deserve to buzz in, answer, and pick the next clue faster than many of united state can procedure the words coming the end of the host’s mouth. The entire thing can be dizzying, almost hypnotic.

At home, answering also two or three inquiries in a row constantly felt like a cool accomplishment. Every clue calls for not simply some understanding of history or science or society or sports, but additionally the capacity to easily unravel a indigenous puzzle. And also “Jeopardy!” no reward partly right answers. In the human being of “Jeopardy!” something is either correct or incorrect.

For years, whether ns was through my mother or alone, watching “Jeopardy!” was all about those questions, the challenge, the factoids, the gentle drama of who would have the most money at the end of any given episode. But because they never stayed also long, it to be never around the contestants themselves.

Then the world met Ken Jennings.

There have been part truly remarkable moments in game present history. A man named terrycloth Kniess as soon as memorized the price of every item on “The Price Is Right” and bid the precise right quantity in the Showcase Showdown, to win $56,437 in prizes. One Ohio male named Michael Larson memorized the light fads on the “Press her Luck” game board, identified how to stop the dreaded “Whammies” and won $110,237. In 1999, john Carpenter came to be the an initial person to victory $1 million ~ above “Who desires to be a Millionaire,” coolly making use of his “phone a friend” to contact his dad top top the last question — simply to to speak he was about to take home the big prize. In 1980, a navy officer called Thom McKee showed up on 46 straight episodes the “Tic-Tac-Dough,” winning $312,700 precious of prizes, consisting of eight cars, three sailboats and also 16 vacations.

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But the “Jeopardy!” to win streak that Jennings started in the summer of 2004 is conveniently the single-greatest achievement in the background of game shows. Since Ken Jennings transcended the world of classic game present fans. The made arcane knowledge a daily topic the conversation.

In all my years watching game shows, I’d never ever seen anyone favor Ken Jennings. He was polite but confident. He to be funny, too, in smart, ethereal ways. He once buzzed in top top a clue around the Oscar-winning Tom Cruise- Dustin Hoffman movie, because that example, and also answered in the layout of the titular character: “What is ‘Rain Man’? Definitely. Definitely.”

And day after work he overcame his adversaries in a way that had actually never to be done. He’d move through entire categories of questions choose he was playing alone, leave his fellow contestants — and all of us at house — certain stunned.

Within a week, he won more than $100,000. After 16-straight games, he was over $500,000. The streak became something human being talked around at work, in ~ school, over dinner. Jennings to be a continuous topic top top sports-talk shows: how long can he go? deserve to anyone to win him? In his 30th game, he broke the $1 million mark. In game 59, he talked about $2 million.