All-Time 'Jeopardy!' Champion
Ken Jennings was born in 1974 just outside Seattle, Washington, but grew up overseas. His family spent 15 years in Korea and Singapore, where his father worked as an attorney. His only lifeline to American pop culture during those years was TV on the Armed Forces Network, where he watched Jeopardy! religiously after school every afternoon.
He ultimately moved back to the States attended college and was working as a software engineer for a Salt Lake City healthcare staffing company in 2004, when he received a phone call telling him that his contestant audition had been successful and he would appear on a June game of Jeopardy! He spent a month making flash cards and cramming on familiar Jeopardy! subjects like US presidents, world capitals, and “potent potables.”
Much to his surprise, his Jeopardy! appearance extended beyond a single game in June: Jennings took advantage of a recent rule change allowing Jeopardy! champions to appear on the show indefinitely, and spent the next six months hogging America’s TV screens. Before losing on the November 30th show because he didn’t know enough about H&R Block, Jennings won 74 games and $2.52 million, both American game show records.
The streak made Jennings a 2004 TV folk hero, and he appeared as a guest on shows including The Tonight Show, The Late Show with David Letterman, Good Morning America, Live with Regis and Kelly, and Sesame Street.
Following his Jeopardy! streak, Jennings’s product endorsements have included FedEx, Microsoft Encarta, Allstate, the ever-present Cingular ad, and even his one-time nemesis H&R Block. He speaks about the importance of learning at college campuses and corporate events, and has co-invented two trivia games: the Can You Beat Ken?board game from University Games and Quizzology, a CD trivia game from Major Games. He has released the book Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs, about his bizarre Jeopardy! adventures and about the phenomenon of trivia in American culture, as well as Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks, a book about the allure of geography. His latest book is Because I Said So: The Truth Behind the Myths, Tales, and Warnings Every Generation Passes Down to Its Kids.
On February 14, 2011, Jennings challenged “Watson”—an IBM computer designed to beat humans at Jeopardy!—along with fellow grand champion Brad Rutter. Every Friday, Jennings writes a quiz based on the previous week’s events for Slate magazine. Also, his “Kennections” trivia puzzle is featured most weekends in Parade, the popular Sunday newspaper magazine, with additional puzzles appearing every week on Parade.com.