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Ken Jennings won Jeopardy!'s Greatest of All Time by beating James Holzhauer at his own game

  • "If Jennings was going to beat Holzhauer, he would need to play at a higher level than he had in the past and embrace aggressive and risky betting strategies," says Jeremy Samuel Faust. "And that’s what he did. By the numbers, Jennings not only narrowly outplayed Holzhauer this week, but in comparison to his prior performances, he massively outplayed himself. Playing your best ever against the best ever is greatness defined.  Jennings’ performance on a clue-to-clue analysis offers perhaps the best support for his victory amounting to more than chance. His was frequently faster on the buzzer than both of his younger competitors, he excelled in various styles of clues, ranging from pure trivia to brain teasers. But he also seemed at times to have to really dig deep to find correct responses. (I don’t believe he was hamming it up for the cameras, Quiz Show style.) Jennings’ long pause before offering 'Who is Imhotep?' in an early but crucial Daily Double in Game 1 of Match 4 was indicative. Even Alex Trebek commented that Jennings’ responses had come to often sound unsure, as if he were asking the show’s questions for real. The clue writers seemed to stretch these three contestants to their limit. And under the highest-pressure circumstances imaginable, Jennings repeatedly delivered. More than that though, Jennings incorporated Holzhauer’s game (both his statistical accuracy and aggressive style of play) and, many times, proved his ability to dominate within that context. That was never a certainty. During Holzhauer’s winning streak last year, Jennings spoke publicly about Holzhauer’s incredible stomach for large wagers, often saying that he wasn’t sure he could play that way. But when the moment came, Jennings did precisely that. Additionally, Jennings embraced the idea that Jeopardy! is a game to be won with aggressive, not defensive, play, something that Holzhauer more than any other player in history demonstrated."


    • "Rock bottom" Ken Jennings says he had to be persuaded to do the tournament: "Low," Jennings says of his confidence before agreeing to the Greatest of All Time tourney. "What’s lower than low? Rock bottom. I’m 15 years older than from where I once was, a young, cocky Jeopardy! phenom, and I’ve started to slow down a little. I’ve been beaten by Brad (Rutter) on the show multiple times, and I’ve been watching James (Holzhauer) and seeing how unstoppable he looked. I told the show, 'I don’t want to do this tournament, I’m out.' But they talked me back into it. I finally decided it was probably the last time I’d ever play the show and almost certainly the last time I’d ever to play with Alex (Trebek) — the real GOAT. I finally figured I’d go and have a good time. It turned out to be a pretty smart play."
    • Jennings admits he had to play Holzhauer's game to have a chance of winning: "It's really a tribute to James that Brad and I just both knew immediately we were going to have to play his game to keep him from winning," he says. "At first, it was very nerve-wracking to put $15,000 on a single trivia question. But … it was the right strategic call every time I did it and that really comforted me. Luckily, it did not blow up in my face."
    • Did Jeopardy! have to follow America’s ultimate-throwdown mentality?: "Our culture is needlessly obsessed with declaring ultimate champions — in sports, where it’s an appropriately objective measure, but in everything else now, too," says Hank Stuever. "We are constantly keeping score. We rank, list and wager over any activity that can produce a winner or a loser, to our collective detriment. This urge finally came calling, inevitably and sort of sadly, for the friendliest of all modern competitions: the long-running TV game show Jeopardy!, which ABC took to prime time over the last week to determine, from a group of its winningest contestants, the rightful holder of the title 'Greatest of All Time' — or GOAT, in overused lingo." Stuever adds: "Jeopardy! didn’t need to go there, but in so doing, it at least kept its manners and mood in check. GOAT or not, Jennings is a suitable wearer of such a crown — self-effacing, self-assured, good on TV. It’s too soon and probably too indecorous to speak of it, but perhaps Jeopardy’s! quest for its all-time champion produced something else instead: its next host?"
    • Jeopardy! Greatest of All Time let quiz show champs become reality stars: The tournament, says Jeremy Bloomer, "has sought more than ever to lionize stars James Holzhauer, Ken Jennings, and Brad Rutter not just as freakishly adept players but as small-screen personalities, with genial appearances on Good Morning America, minidocumentaries about their home lives during the show, and onstage banter no doubt punched up by producers. With the runaway success of the special series, Jeopardy! champions are creeping closer to reality stars than ever before."
    • Jennings once wrote that Holzhauer plays with “insane confidence,” but it was a level of play he found himself operating at successfully
    • James Holzhauer deserves some sort of recognition for his sick burn of Brad Rutter on Night 4

    TOPICS: Ken Jennings, ABC, Jeopardy!, Alex Trebek, Brad Rutter, James Holzhauer, Game Shows