The Greatest Jeopardy! Player Of All Time

3 freaks. 1 GOAT.

Jim Rome
January 15, 2020 - 11:33 am
Alex Trebek

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Make no mistake. This is championship week. LSU bullied their way to the top of the college football mountain on Monday and have the cigar nubs to prove it. The AFC and the NFC conferences will be decided on Sunday. And last night—a GOAT was crowned….

In Jeopardy! 

I don’t even need to justify this take or throw out a disclaimer on why I’m talking about Jeopardy! On a sports radio show. Not when the 4-night, primetime, one-off GOAT tournament absolutely obliterated Twitter and the ratings book. Not when three legendary nerds answering  trivia questions did a bigger number than Game 1 of the NBA Finals, Game 1 of the World Series, and Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. Not when Jeopardy! Outrated every single Monday Night Football game this year except for one. 

So that concludes me burying the lede. Because for the first time in the 56-year history of the show—we now know—without a doubt—who is the greatest Jeopardy! Contestant of all-time. And that GOAT is Ken Jennings. 

You probably know the name because in 2004 Jennings ran off a record 74 games in a row. A record that still stands today and will probably never be broken. Because the next closest streak isn’t even half as long—and it belongs to Jeopardy James Holzhauer who systematically changed Jeopardy! Forever during his 32-game run. But still—he didn’t get within 40 games of what Jennings did. But he racked up every single one of the top-10 single day winnings records and prompted the question from every fan who’s ever watched the show: Who is the Greatest of All Time?

And unlike in sports where we’ll never get a clear cut answer on that—Jeopardy! Is different. Because there is no window to your prime. If your brain and your buzzer thumb still function—you’re in your prime. So the producers came up with an insanely awesome format—put it in primetime—and filled out the podiums with Brad Rutter—who had never lost to a human before this tournament.

Quick note on Brad Rutter; a lot of noobs are gonna say he didn’t belong. One, because they hadn’t heard of him. And, two, because he got absolutely trucked by Jennings and Holzhauer. That’s a whack take. Because Rutter had every right to be there. No one has won more money on Jeopardy! Than him and no one has won more tournaments than him, either. And Rutter first played in an era when Jeopardy! Only allowed contestants to win five games in a row before kicking them off the show. We might not even know who Jennings and Holzhauer are if not for them lifting the limit on games you could win after Brad’s streak of five. 

Was he outclassed? Sure. Did he mangle every Double Double clue he had? Yes. But Brad’s failure these past two weeks weren’t for a lack of knowledge. It was for a lack of buzzer preparation. Something that he admitted was killing him against James and Ken who both mastered the technique of ringing in before the other two players. And when you’ve got three geniuses on stage—you best believe they all know all the answers to every question. So it’s not a matter of smarts. It’s a matter of getting in before the other guys. James and Ken were able to do that. Brad wasn’t. And that’s why Brad got rolled up in carpet.

As for Holzhauer—you could easily make the case that the lack of Daily Doubles sunk him. Because that’s where he makes his bread. No one attacked Daily Doubles like this guy and it’s why his winnings were so absurdly high during his run. He’s a gambler. And he bet his entire stack on himself almost every time he found one of those clues. But the only way to get a Daily Double is to be in charge of the board. And Ken was frequently in charge of the board most of the four nights. And he never missed when he got the opportunity to double up.

All in all—24 Daily Doubles over 4 nights produced 23 all-in bets. That’s the James Holzhauer effect. Don't ever get that twisted. And Ken Jennings said so himself. He said he had to adjust his game to Holzhaurer’s game to win. And he did. And he gets credit for that. 

That being said—Ken is a freak. They all are. But Ken is the freakiest of the freaks. Dude is so freaking smart and never misses. And for four nights he put on a clinic. And proved to be the undisputed GOAT. 

The best part of the tournament is that the producers mostly created a format that left no doubt. Mostly. By making the tourney a multi-night event with two games per match, they eliminated any flukiness. Except for the Daily Doubles. But you could argue that being in control of the board at the time of finding a Daily Double is skill. And not luck. So it goes both ways.

The real kicker here is that Alex Trebek was given a damn near death sentence stage 4 pancreatic cancer diagnosis last year. And right now he’s still fighting but he’s winning the fight. And the show has raised a ton of money and awareness for the cause. Which is a great. And Trebek is crushing his battle to the point where he got to host the most watched and most important tournament of the show’s nearly 6-decade run. So that’s the best storyline.

Congratulation to Ken Jennings. King of the Nerds. 

And congratulations to all 6,000 of Adam Hawk’s followers who don’t have to read his tweets about this again. For now. Although this show is on every night. So maybe the mute button on his account is your best bet.