Many Jeopardy! viewers probably believe that having trivia knowledge is enough to win a game on this popular TV show. While that is true, there are other crucial factors that go into the making of a Jeopardy! champion. Ken Jennings, who is one of the most famous winners from Jeopardy!, believes that age matters quite a lot on the show as well.
Ken Jennings was 30 years old when he won 74 consecutive ‘Jeopardy!’ games
In 2004, 30-year-old Jennings shocked the world when he won 74 consecutive Jeopardy! games in a row, beating the previous record set by contestant Tom Walsh, who won eight games. During his 75th game, Jennings’ streak came to an end when he was defeated by contestant Nancy Zerg. Jennings won a total of $2,522,700 from this stint.
Later on, Jennings also returned to Jeopardy! during its special airings. For example, in 2011, he competed against the IBM computer Watson and came in second place. In 2020, he also competed in the tournament Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time, in which he won first place.
Ken Jennings talks about why age matters a lot on ‘Jeopardy!’
Jennings is now 46 years old—over 15 years older than when he first appeared on Jeopardy!. While it may not seem like Jennings’ Jeopardy! skills have declined at all over the years, he admits that he feels a bit of a disadvantage now as he’s nearing 50 years old.
“I went on Jeopardy! [for the first time] shortly after college, and that was really good. I still remembered all the French kings from 9th grade Western Civ,” he shares on the podcast People I (Mostly) Admire. “But decades go by when you’re not in the classroom, and the world keeps producing new information. And the brain is no longer as plastic—or whatever—as it was as you get into your 40s. There’s just too much to know.”
This is why he believes Jeopardy! is a “young person’s game.” Jennings explains, “You want to be old enough that you kind of know the Boomer trivia, but you still want to be young enough that you know who Cardi B is. It’s a pretty narrow window.”
Jennings also spoke about this in an interview with Seattle Refined shortly before competing on Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time.
“I can tell you firsthand that age matters on Jeopardy!” he said. “I wish it didn’t, because I am 15 years older than when I first played, but I can tell the difference. I’m a little bit slower on coming up with names, and my rhythm isn’t that great on the buzzer.”
With that said, though, the youngest contestant is not always the sure winner of a game. Jennings was the oldest contestant on Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time, though he managed to take home first place.
Ken Jennings also says knowing how to use the buzzer is important
Aside from age, another factor that can greatly affect the outcome of a Jeopardy! game is the use of the buzzer.
“The buzzer is famously tricky,” Jennings shared at MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. “You can’t click as soon as you know it. You have to wait for Alex to finish reading the question. At that point, somebody at the judge’s table flips a switch, activating your buzzer. If you buzz in early, you get locked out for a fraction of a second. If you buzz in late, you get beat. There’s a very narrow window.”
He also explained in a talk with Interview Magazine that, after watching many Jeopardy! games, he became familiar with the way Alex Trebek read the questions and internalized when is the right time to buzz in.
“If you watch it for decades like I had, you internalize the rhythms of Alex [Trebek]’s voice and then the whole cycle because you see it 60 times an evening,” Jennings said. “I found, without even thinking about it, I can get into that rhythm and find the exact right fraction of a second for that buzz. If I think about it, I can’t do it. It’s very much a zen thing. At this point, it’s just part of how I’m wired.”
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