Chris Hicks: Jennings has no regrets despite 2nd-place finish

Utah's 'Jeopardy!' legend has plenty of irons in fire

Published: Thursday, May 26 2005 12:00 a.m. MDT

Jerome Vered, left, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter were the three finalists on "Jeopardy Ultimate Tournament of Champions," which was ultimately won by Rutter.

King World

Don't cry for Ken Jennings: The 31-year-old Utah trivia whiz did not win the $2 million jackpot in this week's three-day "Ultimate Jeopardy" match, but he still managed to pocket $500,000 by coming in second.

With the $2.5 million he won last year, Jennings' total "Jeopardy!" winnings are over $3 million.

The "Jeopardy!" champ was felled Wednesday night by brainy — and quick-with-his-thumb — opponent Brad Rutter, of Lancaster, Penn. Rutter won the $2 million prize in the sweeps-stunt show, which, added to his earlier winnings, also gives him just over $3 million.

Third-place winner Jerome Vered, of Los Angeles, went home Wednesday with $250,000.

Of course, whether the record books will allow these total earnings to possibly change Jennings' status as the biggest game-show money-winner for his 74-show run last year, or keep this trio of "special" episodes in a separate category, remains to be seen. At the end of Wednesday's show, host Alex Trebek pronounced Rutter the all-time champ (with "Jeopardy!" winnings totalling $3,155,102) and Jennings a close second (at $3,020,700).

When he could see that Rutter was going to win, Jennings wrote "Go Brad" as part of his "Final Jeopardy" answer.

Jennings says he has no regrets.

"This was totally unlooked for," he said of his unexpected celebrity. "Even when the 'Jeopardy!' thing happened," he told the Deseret Morning News, "I was just patiently waiting for the whole thing to die out while I was just living a quiet life at my home in Murray."

These days the former Murray software engineer has plenty of irons in the fire — chiefly a deal with the cable channel Comedy Central to develop a TV game show and a board game that will be in stores this week. He's also writing a book about trivia.

Speaking by phone from his Manhattan hotel room, Jennings said he has been in New York this week doing publicity for "Jeopardy!" and his board game, as well as discussing the Comedy Central show with "TV people."

He said he's spent the past few months doing TV commercials for Cingular cell phones and promotions for Federal Express and H&R Block (both of which figured in the "Final Jeopardy" question he missed last November, knocking him off the show).

"Nothing new on that front," he said, adding that he's also on the speaker circuit, traveling around the country addressing college students and corporate functions.


One reason for all the activity is that Jennings doesn't want to miss anything.

"This is the kind of thing that only hits once. I know it's going to be temporary, and I don't want to look back and say, 'Wow I should have done that.' "

The board game is "Can You Beat Ken?" "It's just fun to see your picture on a board game," he said.

The idea is to see who can first reach $2 1/2 million (the amount Jennings won on "Jeopardy!" last year), answering trivia questions about history, sports, science, contemporary music, etc., along the way.

"Players match wits with a cardboard Ken Jennings token that you can move around the board," Jennings said. "I had to answer the questions in the game (1,200 of them), and the players go up against my answers."

The board game is scheduled for release on Friday, but Jennings said, "People have been telling me they've seen it in store shelves."

As for the Comedy Central TV show, Jennings said it's still in the planning stages but should be on the air in early 2006. "I don't know if I'll be hosting the show, but I'll be participating in the game to some degree. It won't just be a 'Beat the Geeks' show, or whatever, but it will have contestants playing against the house."

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