‘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

Kiakho Lake wildfire being held, Stirton Rd wildfire under control

Latest update on two local wildfires in the Kimberley and Cranbrook area

Cranbrook Bucks set to open rookie camp at the end of August

Junior hockey will feature in Cranbrook at the end of the month,… Continue reading

Officials raise alarm over water, environmental ‘crisis’ in Baynes Lake area

Local officials are sounding the alarm over a water and environmental crisis… Continue reading

The Murdochs: Fast Track to Hockey Stardom

Every Canadian hockey story, like that of the Murdochs of Cranbrook, seems to start in the backyard

Cranbrook RCMP looking for stolen red pickup truck

The vehicle is a red 1998 Chevy S10 pickup

Hiroo Onoda’s Thirty-Year War

Some Japanese soldiers, not knowing the war was over, did not surrender until 1972

Canucks ride momentum into NHL playoff series against defending Stanley Cup champs

PREVIEW: Vancouver opens against St. Louis on Wednesday

Man, 54, charged in connection with fatal attack of Red Deer doctor

Doctor was killed in his walk-in clinic on Monday

One dead as fish boat sinks off southern Vancouver Island

Shawnigan Lake-registered Arctic Fox II went down off Cape Flattery, west of Victoria

Landlord takes front door, windows after single B.C. mom late with rent

Maple Ridge mom gets help from community generosity and government

42 more people test positive for COVID-19 in B.C.

The province has recorded no new deaths in recent days

Joe Biden selects California Sen. Kamala Harris as running mate

Harris and Biden plan to deliver remarks Wednesday in Wilmington

Lawsuit launched after Florida child handcuffed, booked and briefly jailed

Suit alleges “deliberate indifference” to what should have been handled as a behavioural issue

Most Read