‘Jeopardy!’ titans compete for $1 million, ‘Greatest’ title

Brad Rutter, Ken Jennings and James Holzhauer vie for bragging rights starting Tuesday

From left, James Holzhauer, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter appear on the set of “Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time,” in Los Angeles. (Eric McCandless/ABC via AP)

The Super Bowl is weeks away, but for “Jeopardy!” addicts the big game is here: All-time top money winners Brad Rutter, Ken Jennings and James Holzhauer are facing off for ultimate bragging rights.

“The first person to win three matches will be crowned the greatest of all time,” said executive producer Harry Friedman. The winner gets $1 million, with $250,000 for each runner-up in the contest that airs on consecutive nights beginning 8 p.m. ET Tuesday.

Host Alex Trebek credits the rookie for making “Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time” happen.

The tournament “was a natural because of the appearance of James Holzhauer,” Trebek said. “Prior to that, there wasn’t a contestant who measured up, in the eyes of our viewers, to Ken Jennings or Brad Rutter. And here comes James, and wins more money faster than anybody else had ever done on the show, and really caught America’s fancy.”

Friedman said there had been discussions with ABC about a rare prime-time foray for “Jeopardy!” but the format was proving elusive until professional sports gambler Holzhauer steamrolled his way to glory in 2019 with his smarts, skill and high-roller Daily Double bets.

“There was a lot of online chatter about, ‘Is he the greatest player of all time?’ ‘No, Ken Jennings, because he had that streak,’ or somebody would say, ‘I think it’s Brad Rutter, look at how many times he’s won.’ So it really sort of fell into place,” the producer said.

Trebek, who is being treated for pancreatic cancer as he’s continued hosting regular “Jeopardy!” games, wasn’t asked directly if he was up to handling the championship series as well.

“We discussed the idea of this competition with him because we wanted to make sure that he supported it as a concept, first and foremost. And he said, ‘Oh yeah, let’s do.’ Enthusiastically,” Friedman said.

(“It’s part of my job,” Trebek said. He was “struggling a bit” during the taping, he said, adding, “Well, it comes with the territory.”)

The high-profile contest took place in December. To keep the outcome a mystery, an ABC release has it running through Jan. 16 “if necessary.”

For Jennings, knowing who he would face was both stressful — “Usually, it’s anybody’s guess who makes the finals” — and helpful.

“I could look at tape of them, and they’re both extremely scary players, one of whom (Rutter) I’ve played before. He usually finds a way to win. So I knew these just going to be the fastest, smartest people I’ve ever seen holding a ‘Jeopardy!’ buzzer,” Jennings said.

Holzhauer also did his homework.

“I studied some more esoteric facts with the expectation that the writers would ramp up the question difficulty, but the big thing I did to prepare was extra reps of buzzer practice, knowing that Brad and Ken are the two best in the history of the show on the signalling device,” he said in an email.

It feels “crazy to be compared to the two best players that ever came before me, but I know I can hang with them,” Holzhauer said. “One nice factor is that the three of us can have fun trash talking without anyone ‘punching down.’”

Rutter considers the players to be evenly matched in their skills.

“It’s really all about buzzer timing and knowledge, and all of us are pretty good at that,” he said. “Personality-wise, I think Ken is probably the jokiest of the three, like he throws little quips in, and I’m a little too focused. … James is also ready with the quips, but he’s got the analytical thing down, too.”

“But we all put a bunch of strategy into it,” Rutter said. Any chance he’d share his? “Tune in to find out.”

Rutter enters the contest as the top winner on any TV game show with $4.69 million in “Jeopardy!” play. Jennings holds the winning-streak record, 74 games, and has collected $3.37 million. Holzhauer set and broke more than a dozen records for the largest single-day winnings, won the 2019 Tournament of Champions and earned $2.7 million in winnings.

READ MORE: ‘We love you, Alex!’: Trebek gets choked up by ‘Jeopardy!’ contestant’s answer

Rutter is the veteran player, making his first “Jeopardy!” appearance nearly 20 years ago, in October 2000, when champs were “retired” from regular-season play after five victories. Jennings’ first game was in June 2004, a year after the rules were changed to allow players to rack up unlimited wins.

Subsequent tournament play has seen Rutter consistently triumph. But Jennings can claim a qualified exhibition victory: During a 2011 face-off with IBM’s Watson, the computer won but Jennings topped Rutter to come in second.

The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Thief steals donation box, tip jar from Oak Bay businesses

Oak Bay Police Department looking for suspect

Dog dies, Victoria man arrested after incident in Oaklands

Police called to ‘incident between a man and a dog’ Monday afternoon

George Jay parents tired of dog poop left on school’s fields

Parents advocate for stronger fines, more signage in the neighbourhood

Booms go up in Gorge Creek after hydrocarbon spill

The source of the spill is being investigated

VIDEO: Greater Victoria mom shares ‘insane’ experience of viral dinosaur video

Tabitha Cooper filmed her costumed sons meeting their grandma at the Victoria International Airport

Skier dies at Fernie Alpine Resort

It’s the second person to die in a tree well at a ski resort in B.C. in the past week.

Power lines cut as thieves strike Vancouver Island veterinary hospital

‘Thankfully there weren’t any animals or staff in the clinic when this happened’

Vancouver Island home to one of Canada’s largest private skateboard collections

Eric Pinto owns hundreds of boards, spanning multiple decades

ICBC to bring in ranking system for collision, glass repair shops

Change comes after the much-maligned auto insurer has faced criticism for sky-high premiums

Surrey’s ‘Pink Palace’ being used for Stephen King horror shoot

New web series based on King’s The Stand novel

‘It was just so fast’: B.C. teen recalls 150-metre fall down Oregon mountain

Surrey’s Gurbaz Singh broke his leg on Mount Hood on Dec. 30

Vancouver Island Pride weekend returns to Mount Washington Alpine Resort

Building on the success of last year’s family-friendly pride festival on Vancouver… Continue reading

Scarlett Point lighthouse keeper wins a million bucks playing the lottery

“I usually just get a quick pick, so I didn’t expect to win a big prize”

Most Read