Fans Will Be Shocked to Learn About Ken Jennings' 'Jeopardy!' Past

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When longtime Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek died at the age of 80 from pancreatic cancer in November 2020, fans of the hit quiz show franchise were worried about who would be formidable enough to become the show's emcee. After watching a number of guest hosts audition for the role, by July 2022, viewers learned that former contestant Ken Jennings would succeed Alex at the podium, and work in tandem with The Big Bang Theory alum Mayim Bialik as co-hosts.

As Ken eventually became the sole host of Jeopardy! and most of its spinoffs (Mayim revealed her exit from the show back in December 2023), TV-goers became familiar with him reading off the clues to contestants. He's also known for showcasing his love of trivia knowledge, oftentimes giving a more detailed response after the correct answer is said out loud.

But fans may not remember one key element about the TV host that makes him stand out. Ken has had his own experience of being a competitor on Jeopardy!, and he actually is the longest-running contestant in the franchise's history.

how long was ken jennings on jeopardy
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How long was Ken Jennings a contestant on Jeopardy!?

Ken first appeared on Jeopardy! on June 2, 2004. Per The Hollywood Reporter, at the time, he was a software developer working at a health care staffing facility in Salt Lake City, Utah. He told the outlet he'd auditioned for the show a year prior, and when he found out he'd be on TV, he went into full competition mode.

"There were reruns on in our market, so I could watch Jeopardy! 12 times a week, and I went into this very serious Rocky training mode," he explained. "I would stand up behind a recliner that I pretended was a contestant podium."

Ahead of Ken's debut, Jeopardy! decided the rule of contestants exiting after five wins would be no more. Meaning: should Ken go past the arbitrary number of victories, he had the ability to do so. He won a whopping $37,201 after his first game (per Britannica.com), and this would start his streak of winning 74 straight games.

How did Ken Jennings lose in his final Jeopardy! game and what were his total winnings?

Ken's last game in his Jeopardy! streak occurred on November 30, 2004, where he found himself competing against Nancy Zerg and David Hankins.

In the Final Jeopardy! round, featuring the category of "Business and Industry," Ken made an incorrect guess for the clue that read, per Yahoo! Entertainment: "Most of this firm’s 70,000 seasonal white-collar employees work only four months a year." At the time, he answered, "What is FedEx?," betting $5,601 of his $14,400 accumulation for the final episode. Instead, Nancy correctly guessed, "What is H&R Block?," betting $4,401 to add to her $10,000 overall earnings, and put her just one dollar ahead of Ken.

Ken's shocking loss ended a 75-game appearance, winning 74 times, guessing the correct answer 2,700 times and amassing $2.52 million in winnings.

Did Ken Jennings compete on Jeopardy! after his winning streak?

Ken came back to Jeopardy! over the years to compete in various tournaments and one-off episodes. He famously competed against IBM computer Watson in February 2011, where he and fellow contestant Brad Rutter lost to it at the end of three episodes.

In January 2020, Ken faced off against Brad and James Holzhauer in the limited run Jeopardy! Greatest of All Time tournament. He eventually won $63,400 at the end of the competition, and told USA Today he decided to compete as an honor to Alex, who was battling pancreatic cancer amid the tournament.

"I've been watching Alex on 'Jeopardy!' since I was 10 and that show meant a lot to me as kind of a smart kid, just kind of legitimizing knowing stuff and making it seem kind of cool and fun to be smart every evening for half an hour. That was very formative for me," he told the outlet at the time. "And Alex was always the face of that. And just over the last year of watching him in his cancer battle, to have the dignity and the courage that he's showed, I just could not admire the guy more and I have so much affection for him."

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