Corrections and clarifications: An earlier version of this story said the tournament would continue Friday. ABC will now resume it on Tuesday (8 EST/PST).
Spoiler alert: This story contains details from Thursday’s match in ABC’s “Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time” tournament.
Ken Jennings is a step closer to being named the “Jeopardy! Greatest of All Time,” after winning his second match Thursday.
Jennings was the first to advance toward becoming “Jeopardy!” GOAT when the competition kicked-off Tuesday. Night 2 saw James Holzhauer take his turn at the top, as the players worked to – as Jennings put it – “leave something in the tank” to get through a full hour of play in the ABC tournament.
On Night 3, it was definitely Jennings whose tank was full, as he dominated play from the start. Even Holzhauer was impressed, tweeting after the show, “My wife is going to make me roleplay as @KenJennings tonight.”
Jennings gave a cheeky – though slightly naughty – reply about timing.
But at the end of the match, all three players proved they spent more time memorizing trivia than going to the movies.
The tournament pits the three biggest money winners in the syndicated quiz show’s history – Jennings, Brad Rutter and Holzhauer – for its first network prime time airing since 1990. The pre-taped competition continues Tuesday (8 EST/PST).
The players and venerable host Alex Trebek return each weeknight, except for Monday, until one wins three nights, or matches. Each match consists of two traditional, half-hour “Jeopardy!” games, with the night’s highest total points winner (scores are measured in points, not dollars, in the special format) getting the victory.
James Holzhauer, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter battle for ultimate bragging rights on “Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time.” . (Photo: Eric McCandless, ABC)
Night 2: ‘Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time’ Game 2 recap: The competition – and the joking – heats up
On Thursday, Jennings was the runaway winner, though all three players had the correct question to the first Final Jeopardy answer: “These 2 now-defunct parties each gave the U.S. 4 presidents in the 19th century.” (What are the Whigs and Democratic Republicans?) Jennings took the first game with a total of 51,200 points. Holzhauer ended with 27,200 and Rutter with 17,600.
Holzhauer ran the board at the start of Game 2, racking up 5,000 points before being wiped out with an all-in Daily Double bet. Trebek teased the professional gambler, telling him, “All right, you’re tied with Ken and Brad.”
Rutter got both Daily Doubles in the Double Jeopardy! round, landing him in second place for his best showing so far in the GOAT tourney, but again, it was all Jennings, all the time.
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Then came the second Final Jeopardy answer: “These 2 foreign-born directors have each won 2 best director Oscars, but none of their films has won best picture.” It garnered some interesting responses from the three.
Holzhauer, who was in the unusual (for him) position of third place, wrote, “Who is the GHOST – greatest host of syndicated TV?” Trebek also asked if he’d started to write “Pat Sajak,” joking, “I wish you had risked more points!” In the end, Holzhauer wagered just 908, and ended with 6,492 points for the game, 33,692 for the match.
Rutter also was stumped, choosing to write, “Ken es el hombre” and “Eagles Super Bowl LII Champs.” “Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to welcome you to the ‘Jeopardy!’ comedy hour,” Trebek deadpanned.
Rutter’s wager of 4,133 points left him with 5,867 for the game and a match total of 23,467.
When it was his turn, Jennings cracked a joke of his own before Trebek revealed Jennings had at least taken a stab at a legit answer. Jennings wrote, “Who are Lee and Gonzalez-Inarritu?” He was still wrong. The correct response was, “Who are Ang Lee and Alfonso Cuaron?”
But Jennings, already way ahead, was conservative in his bet. He’d bet just 1,200, leaving him with 16,400 for Game 2 and a match total of 67,600 points, more than double Holzhauer’s No. 2 showing.
The contest could now end Tuesday if Jennings wins again. (It could also stretch out until a three-way, winner-take-all match on Jan. 17.) The winner gets $1 million, with the other two competitors each receiving $250,000.
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“Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek (Photo: Eric McCandless/ABC)
The GOAT tournament continues to highlight how Jennings and Rutter have had to adjust their strategy to match Holzhauer’s go-for-broke style. The professional sports gambler isn’t intimidated by bets with the potential for huge rewards – or huge losses.
It also puts a stake in the leisurely strategy of running through a full category of clues before moving on to the next. Instead, players start at the high-dollar clues and jump between categories, searching for Daily Doubles to quickly boost their scores.
Holzhauer’s headline-grabbing success last year inspired the GOAT concept, Trebek told USA TODAY in an exclusive interview when the contest was announced in November.
“When James had his run last year, a lot of people were wondering, ‘Well, how would he do against Ken Jennings? How would he do against Brad Rutter?’ (They’re) our two most successful players in ‘Jeopardy!’ history,” he says. “These three players have won close to $10 million in ‘Jeopardy!’ prize money and over 100 games among them, so it was logical.”
Fans are for Trebek, 79, as well as the players. The host, who has helmed the syndicated hit since it launched in 1984, revealed his stage 4 pancreatic cancer diagnosis in March and has updated the public about his treatments and status as he continues to conduct the show.
He said at the Television Critics Association Wednesday that he felt his illness had a small effect – “I seemed a little slower in the ad-lib portions” – during the tapings. The competitors disagreed.
“You wonder how he’s doing. You get there – and he’s still Alex Trebek,” Jennings said. “He never fumbles a word. The last of the great old-school broadcasters.”
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Contributing: Gary Levin
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