‘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

VIDEO: Fire departments salute health care staff at hospital in Comox Valley

Trucks large and small drove by facility in procession, with siren and flashers on

‘An extra $220 every 90 days’: B.C. patients pay more dispensing fees due to prescription limits

Kelowna woman says it’s outrageous to charge for refills every 30 days

Courtenay Easter Promenade has a homemade theme this year

Decorate your house; chance to win prizes

Woofy’s now selling Girl Guide Cookies

Another business has stepped up to help the Girl Guides sell their… Continue reading

Comox Valley handyDART offers free grocery delivery

The handyDART service in the Comox Valley is offering free deliveries for… Continue reading

‘Hold our line’: 29 new cases of COVID-19 announced in B.C.

Saturday’s number of new cases marks the lowest in weeks.

Comox Valley grocers going extra mile during coronavirus

We have had numerous requests to post a fluid article directing consumers… Continue reading

Two inmates found positive for COVID-19 at federal prison in B.C.; other tests pending

15 staff self-isolating waiting results, refusal to work notice sent, says correctional officer

Critic, workers’ group ‘disappointed’ Trudeau chose Amazon to distribute PPE

Amazon Canada said in an email to The Canadian Press that it is working with Canada Post, Purolator

Full World COVID-19 update: National Guard collect ventilators in New York; Spain, Italy improve

Comprehensive coronavirus update with news from around the world.

Federal NDP suggests universal benefit to streamline aid payments

Those who do not need money will repay at end of tax year

Saanich mayor receives his foster bees through pollinator rental program

‘I feel like I’m an adoptive father,’ Fred Haynes says of his rented mason bee colony

Nanaimo’s Harmac mill works to fill doubled pulp order for medical masks and gowns

Mill’s president says extra cleaning in place and workers are social distancing

Two people fined after B.C. police spot online ads re-selling 5,000 surgical, N95 masks

Police confiscated the masks, being sold at inflated prices, and now working with Fraser Health

Most Read