He won 74 consecutive times. Took home more than $2.5 million. He is the ultimate Jeopardy! champion.
Who is Ken Jennings?
With appearances on multiple game shows, including Jeopardy! and Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? , Ken Jennings has won more money than any other game show contestant in history.
Shauna Lake sat down with Ken Jennings in this week’s “Person 2 Person.”
Below is a transcript of Shauna Lake’s interview with Ken Jennings:
SHAUNA LAKE: When was your first kind of realization of your intellect?
KEN JENNINGS: I don’t know if winning on game shows is the same as intellect, you know?
SHAUNA LAKE: Do you feel like it’s different?
KEN JENNINGS: I think it is. I’m not going to leave here today and go invent an electric car or something. Being good at trivia is more like a party trick really.
SHAUNA LAKE: So is it a skill? Would you liken it to a skill?
KEN JENNINGS: It’s definitely a skill you can get better at. It’s something you can practice at, but most of the people you see, these know-it-alls you see on these game shows, the scary thing is they came out of the box like that. Even as a kid I remember being a sponge for information. I was the annoying kid that’s always you know telling his parents, ‘Guess what? A giraffe’s tongue is 20 inches long’ or whatever. Some people are just born nerds for facts.
SHAUNA LAKE: Did you get positive strokes for knowing that kind of information as a little kid?
KEN JENNINGS: That’s true. That’s one thing that these kind of nerdy Lisa Simpson kids love is a little pat on the head and a little gold star, and I was like that too. But I realized very early on, you don’t want to be the kid who always has his hand in the air and always had the know-it-all kind of fact because there’s a real social cost to that. It’s not a hit with girls to know Captain Kirk’s middle name. So I realized at a very young age that you’ve got to sort of put that in the closet.
SHAUNA LAKE: So then how did the game shows come into play?
KEN JENNINGS: Well I’d always loved game shows. As far back as I can remember I was watching Hollywood Squares, and Family Feud, and The Match Game every morning. When Jeopardy! came back on the air in 1984 my family was living overseas. We lived in Seoul, South Korea. My dad was a lawyer there. So there was only one English language TV channel. There’s the army TV. That’s all there is. And I would run home from school every day to watch Jeopardy!, and my friends would too because there was nothing else to watch. So my fifth grade class we were obsessed with Jeopardy! and we always would gather around at recess and we would know who had wagered too much on a Daily Double last night. And I remember just thinking, these guys you see on Jeopardy!, they must be the smartest people on earth. I watch the show today and they’re just people. There’s some guy in a nerdy sweater and some lady with a story about her cat. But at the time I thought, these guys are geniuses, I got to, someday I want to be on this show.
SHAUNA LAKE: I read somewhere that ratings were up 22% every time Ken Jennings was on the show. So they love you, the audience loves you, everybody’s cheering for you, what was that like to be kind of the darling of this show?
KEN JENNINGS: Well we were having so much fun. We were living in Murray, you know in Salt Lake, and we would, I would have to fly down to L.A. two or three times a month. They tape like five shows in an afternoon so you know I’d fly down for 48 hours, tape ten shows and come back. And I remember it was a crazy summer because I couldn’t tell anybody. The shows weren’t going to air for months. So I’m having to keep this secret, I’m having to go back to work and not tell anybody, ‘hey, yeah I just won a quarter of a million dollars last week.’ It was pretty cool. You got to go to the morning staff meeting like you care, you know?
SHAUNA LAKE: And what is your job at this point?
KEN JENNINGS: I was a computer programmer. And my boss knows. She’s covering for me at work, but nobody else knows. My parents don’t know. My coworkers don’t know. Nobody knows. And then the shows finally started to air months later and I could actually talk about it to people.
SHAUNA LAKE: What make you likable do you think?
KEN JENNINGS: I don’t think anything made me likable. Jeopardy! didn’t know if it was going to be a popular thing or if it was going to be irritating to have the same guy on every night. I watch those shows now and I’m like ugh. There’s this oppy looking Mormon guy from Salt Lake. He gets all the questions right. He doesn’t even give anyone else the chance to ring in. I think everybody’s grandma probably hated me that summer quite frankly.
SHAUNA LAKE: Obviously not. Everyone watched. The ratings went through the roof.
KEN JENNINGS: Everybody watched, but maybe it’s like when is this guy going to lose, you know?
SHAUNA LAKE: You think they were cheering for you to lose essentially?
KEN JENNINGS: I bet a lot of people were rooting against me. At some point I started rooting against me because you know nobody wants to see the Yankees win all the time. It’s America, you root for the underdog.
SHAUNA LAKE: What about your kids? Do they even get what you’ve done? The magnitude of it all or do they just think you’re dorky dad?
KEN JENNINGS: They were pretty young. My son, my daughter wasn’t even born yet, my son was like three when I was on Jeopardy!. So I don’t think they’ve really got it until like last year or two years ago when I was back on because IBM had the evil super computer that could play Jeopardy! and kicked my butt. And I think at that point it sort of sunk in and now my son’s just obsessed with Jeopardy! and he wants to watch it every night, and I’m like no, no.
SHAUNA LAKE: He’s a little mini-me of you.
KEN JENNINGS: He’s a little mini-me actually. Maybe someday he will be on the show breaking all those records.
SHAUNA LAKE: It’s been such a fun interview. It’s been so nice to meet you “Person 2 Person.”
KEN JENNINGS: That you so much. Thanks for having me.
SHAUNA LAKE: Thank you Ken.
KEN JENNINGS: My pleasure.
Follow Ken on Twitter @KenJennings