SALT LAKE CITY — “Jeopardy!” legend Ken Jennings has previously said a matchup with James Holzhauer would be “irresistible.”
On Tuesday night, in a “Jeopardy!” event of Olympic proportions, Jennings got his shot. And it was a nailbiter of a match, with Jennings beating Holzhauer by only $200.
But this was just the first match in “Jeopardy! The Greatest Of All Time” — a series Alex Trebek called “the greatest ‘Jeopardy!’ tournament ever.”
To claim the $1 million prize and be declared the “greatest of all time,” a contestant has to be the first player to win three matches.
But Jennings is off to a really good start.
Tuesday night’s match, which also featured Brad Rutter — the highest earning “Jeopardy!” contestant of all time — was a moment of redemption for Jennings, who has a history of losing to Rutter.
“Often a Bradsmaid, never a Brad,” Jennings previously told the New York Post.
The hourlong match (two regular “Jeopardy!” games) included high wagers and fast thinking — how do all three contestants pick up on those wordplay clues so quickly? And somehow, even under all of the pressure, the contestants still found time to be witty.
The first of two “Jeopardy!” games Tuesday night tested the contestants on their knowledge of everything from national parks to musical instruments to Shakespeare. Jennings, who was a Brigham Young University graduate and software engineer in Salt Lake City when he had his 74-game winning streak in 2004, ended up landing on a clue about the Beehive State: “Here’s a view of this Utah national park through one of the sandstone features for which it is named.”
He got it right. The answer? “Arches.”
It’s been 15 years since Jennings had his big run on “Jeopardy!” and the contestant expressed his appreciation for the game Tuesday night.
“I do feel very comfortable when I get out here. It’s just a pleasure to pick up the buzzer, to see the set, to hear your voice — it really is kind of a fun, nostalgic rush,” he told Trebek. “I do feel like I’m back home.”
Thanks to a large wager on a Daily Double question and getting on a roll with the buzzer, Jennings ended up going into the Final Jeopardy round with a substantial lead at $33,200 — Holzhauer had $16,600 and Rutter was in third place with $5,200.
The Final Jeopardy question: “‘Silent’ Calvin Coolidge was inaugurated in 1925 on a Bible open to this six-word first line of the gospel, according to John.”
All three contestants got it right — “In the beginning was the word” — and had big wagers to boost their scores.
Jennings remained in the lead with $45,000, and Holzhauer and Rutter wagered everything they had to double their scores to $33,200 and $10,400.
And then it was time for Game 2.
It wasn’t a good game for Rutter, who landed on two of the game’s three Daily Doubles and wagered (and lost) all of his money both times when he missed the questions. (In total, Rutter landed on four of the six Daily Double questions Tuesday night. Jennings got the other two and correctly answered them both).
In his usual fashion, Holzhauer went straight to the big-money questions and dominated the buzzer for much of this game. Going into the Final Jeopardy round, he had the lead at $15,000, with Jennings close behind at $12,200 and Rutter closely trailing behind that with $10,000.
The Final Jeopardy question: “This man’s name was given to a comet that crashed into Jupiter in 1994; he’s the only human whose remains lie on the moon.”
With the stakes high, Rutter wagered everything on this question. Being the risk taker he is, Holzhauer also wagered all of his $15,000. Jennings was a little more conservative, wagering $6,200 of his game two total.
But in the end, night one was ultimately a showdown between Jennings and Holzhauer, who both correctly answered the Final Jeopardy question: “Who is Shoemaker?”
That brought Holzhauer’s game total up to $30,000 and Jennings’ game total to $18,400. But once the totals from the first game were added in, Jennings became the victor with $63,400 — ever so slightly edging out Holzhauer’s $63,200.
Not a disappointing start for a competition featuring the three best “Jeopardy!” contestants of all time.