Ken Jennings won 74 straight games on the TV game show Jeopardy!
in 2004. The unprecedented run earned him $2,522,700, at the time the greatest amount ever won by any contestant on an American game show, and made him the most celebrated game show contestant since Charles Van Doren
. Ken Jennings was a software engineer in Salt Lake City when his first Jeopardy!
appearance aired on 2 June 2004; by the time of his final appearance on 30 November 2004, he had become a national pop culture hero. He appeared on Late Night with David Letterman
and Sesame Street
, was featured on television commercials for Federal Express and Cingular Wireless, and helped create Can You Beat Ken?
, his own board game. He also won $500,000 on another game show, Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?
, in 2008. Ken Jennings and another famous Jeopardy!
champion, Brad Rutter, were defeated by the IBM computer Watson in a much-publicized match in 2011. Brainiac
, his book about his experiences as a trivia celebrity, was published in September of 2006, and he followed it up with a string of other books, including Maphead
(2011), Because I Said So
(2012), Planet Funny
(2018), and his Junior Genius knowledge guides for kids. In 2020, Ken Jennings returned to Jeopardy!
for a special prime-time Greatest of All Time Tournament against super-champs Brad Rutter and James Holzhauer. Jennings prevailed by winning three of the four matches, earning $1,000,000 and a Jeopardy!
trophy reading "The Greatest of All Time." That fall, Jennings joined the staff of Jeopardy!
as a consulting producer, with a portfolio that the Washington Post described as "contestant outreach, consultations about clue writing, appearing in video clues... and just generally being an ambassador for the show." Jennings, Rutter, and Holzhauer also began a joint stint as the Chaser in a US version of the popular British game show The Chase
. After Jeopardy!'s
longtime host, Alex Trebek
, died of pancreatic cancer in November of 2020, the show announced that Jennings would be the first in a series of interim guest hosts that would last for the rest of the show's season.