‘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)

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

The COVID-19 pandemic had an effect on film production on central and north Vancouver Island, says Vancouver Island North Film Commission. Pictured here, production of TV series Resident Alien in Ladysmith earlier this year. (Black Press file)
Film commissioner says COVID-19 cost central Island $6 million in economic activity

Jurassic World: Dominion, Chesapeake Shores among productions halted due to pandemic, says INFilm

Chelsey Moore’s character Chloe in the upcoming virtual reality game Altdeus: Beyond Chronos. Screengrab
Vancouver Island actress finds success in a virtual world

Black Creek’s Chelsey Moore lends her voice to a new video game set for release in December

Ceramic artist Darrel Hancock working on a clay jug in his home studio in Qualicum Beach. (Submitted photo)
Qualicum Beach potter Darrel Hancock celebrates 40 years in business

‘It’s wonderful to do what you love and make a living at it’

Artist Daniel Cline discusses his sculpture, Harmony Humpbacks, during the June 20 walking tour of Oak Bay’s 2019 ArtsAlive sculptures. Harmony Humpbacks was purchased by Oak Bay as the 2019 people’s choice winner and is permanently installed at the Beach Drive entrance to Willows Park. (Kevin Murdoch Photo)
Influx of donated art a ‘fantastic problem to have,’ says Oak Bay mayor

Oak Bay goes from zero to 10 permanent art pieces since 2015

Nanaimo rappers Konfidential and Teus released their first joint album, <em>The Invasion</em>. (Photo courtesy Raymond Knight)
Nanaimo rappers Konfidential and Teus release first joint album

Duo plan elaborate live-streamed CD release for ‘The Invasion’

Next month Nanaimo musician Spencer Hiemstra releases his solo debut album, ‘Wildlife.’ (Photo submitted)
Nanaimo musician Spencer Hiemstra releases solo debut album

New record ‘Wildlife’ about taking chances and going through changes

Dover Bay Secondary School student Victoria Hathfield’s poem <em>Dear Santa</em> appears in<em> Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas is in the Air</em>. (Photo courtesy Darren Lee)
Nanaimo high schooler has first poem published in ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’

Victoria Hathfield’s ‘Dear Santa’ appears in new Christmas-themed edition of anthology series

Nanaimo graphic designer Amy Pye has written and illustrated her first children’s book, <em>G is for Grizzly Bear: A Canadian Alphabet</em>. (Photo courtesy Amy Pye)
Nanaimo graphic designer releases first children’s book

Amy Pye teaches the Canadian alphabet in ‘G is for Grizzly Bear’

The Vancouver Island Symphony’s Back Row Brass Quintet – including trumpeter Mark D’Angelo, tuba player Nick Atkinson and French horn player Karen Hough (from left) – were scheduled to tour the Nanaimo area with Christmas Under the Big Tent, but the concert series has now been cancelled. (Photo courtesy HA Photography)
Symphony brass quintet’s Christmas concert series cancelled

Performances were to happen at venues in Parksville and Lantzville next month

The Sheringham Point Lighthouse, near Shirley. (Contributed - Lee-Ann Ruttan)
New book shines a light on Sheringham Point Lighthouse

Publication examines history, lightkeepers, and volunteer society

Victoria-based guitarist Eric Harper performs at the Port Theatre on Nov. 27. (Photo credit Tatum Duryba)
Classical guitarist to play at the Port Theatre

Eric Harper to play new songs composed during the pandemic

A sample of some of Lou-ann Neel’s jewelry.
Lou-ann Neel wins the Fulmer Award in First Nations Art

Originally from Alert Bay, Neel’s family is steeped in renowned Kwakwaka’wakw artists

Most Read