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A new ‘Jeopardy!’ tournament features 6 of the show’s highest-ranked players. Here’s why Ken Jennings isn’t competing

Although the new tournament has generated significant excitement, some fans have been quick to point to Ken Jennings’ absence from the lineup

SHARE A new ‘Jeopardy!’ tournament features 6 of the show’s highest-ranked players. Here’s why Ken Jennings isn’t competing
Ken Jennings as the host of “Jeopardy!”

Ken Jennings as the host of “Jeopardy!”

Jeopardy Productions, Inc.

The “Jeopardy!” Masters tournament — which will feature six of the quiz show’s highest-ranked contestants competing against each other — is coming up.

Although the new tournament has generated significant excitement, some fans have been quick to point to Ken Jennings’ absence from the lineup. Nineteen years after his legendary 74-game winning streak, Jennings’ record remains untouched. He still has the highest winnings in regular-season play, with just over $2.5 million. And in 2020, he beat James Holzhauer and Brad Rutter in the Greatest of All Time tournament, claiming his title as the “Jeopardy!” G.O.A.T.

But Jennings won’t be competing in the Masters.

Instead, the stacked lineup includes: 40-game champion Amy Schneider, who is No. 2 for most consecutive games won in show history; 38-game winner Matt Amodio and 32-game champ Holzhauer, who are No. 3 and No. 4, respectively, for most games won; Mattea Roach, a 23-game champ who is the youngest super-champion in “Jeopardy!” history; Sam Buttrey, who won the inaugural Professors Tournament in 2021; and Andrew He, a five-game champ who beat Roach during the semifinal round of the 2022 Tournament of Champions to compete against Schneider and Buttrey in the finals (Schneider ended up winning).

Jennings, meanwhile, will be on the other side of the playing field as host.

Why Ken Jennings isn’t competing in the ‘Jeopardy!’ Masters tournament

“Jeopardy!” has a rule that once someone has hosted the quiz show, they are no longer allowed to compete. The show’s longtime producer, Sarah Whitcomb Foss, previously said on an episode of the podcast “Inside Jeopardy!” that hosts have “seen behind the curtain,” leading to an unfair advantage over other contestants, CinemaBlend reported.

But the show hasn’t really had a lot of opportunities to enforce this rule. The late Alex Trebek hosted the quiz show for 36 seasons. Following Trebek’s death, “Jeopardy!” rotated through a number of guest hosts — most being celebrities who would likely be ineligible to compete on “Celebrity Jeopardy!” in the future.

Aside from Jennings, only one other contestant who competed in regular-season play has had a turn behind the hosting lectern. When “Jeopardy!” announced that Buzzy Cohen — a nine-game champ who won the 2017 “Jeopardy!” Tournament of Champions — would host the show’s 2021 Tournament of Champions, “Jeopardy!” made it clear that the move rendered Cohen ineligible to compete on the show in the future, the Deseret News reported.

“Buzzy has been where each of these champions is, so we think it’ll be comforting for the contestants to see a familiar face behind the lectern,” Mike Richards, then-executive producer of “Jeopardy!” said in a statement at the time. “We will miss seeing him compete, but we look forward to seeing how he uses his quick wit and personality as guest host.”

But Michael Davies, the show’s new executive producer who took over after Richards’ firing in 2021, has said he would be willing to bend the rule should an appropriate occasion arise.

“I’m telling you, it’s like if Ken is the Greatest Of All Time — kind of like Arnold Palmer who tees off at The Masters — if Ken came to me desperately and said, ‘This is it. I still want to play Jeopardy!’ I cannot believe that I would completely close the door on Ken playing any form of Jeopardy! at any point in the future,” he said on the podcast episode, per CinemaBlend.

But Davies added that Jennings — who previously told the Deseret News that hosting the show was his “dream job” — has indicated his days competing on “Jeopardy!” are over.

“Ken does consistently say he’s retired from playing,” Davies said. “I wouldn’t close the door — as the commissioner of major league ‘Jeopardy!’ — I wouldn’t close the door completely from Ken playing in the future, but he seems to have closed the door himself.”

How to watch the ‘Jeopardy!’ Masters tournament

Jennings — who along with Mayim Bialik was named a permanent host of “Jeopardy!” in July 2022 — has been quick to promote the tournament.

“Look at this Jeopardy! Masters lineup,” Jennings shared on Twitter Jan. 11. “I’m glad I’m hosting and not playing.”

The tournament airs May 8 on ABC, and will be available to stream on Hulu.

Each hourlong episode will feature different combinations of the six contestants competing in two games, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The tournament will end with the crowning of a “Jeopardy!” “master.”

Davies previously alluded to the tournament on the Jan. 9 episode of the podcast “Inside Jeopardy!” He noted that a “Jeopardy!” resolution for 2023 was to “make ‘Masters’ happen and get the ‘Masters’ right.”

“And build something which is permanent,” he continued. “I don’t want to just like do ‘Masters’ and do it once like GOAT (the ‘Jeopardy! Greatest of All Time’ tournament). I want ‘Masters’ to be an annual event. I want that to be the pinnacle event of the top of the pyramid of all of ‘Jeopardy!’”