Before he became a “Jeopardy!” legend with a 74-game winning streak — and long before he became the show’s “Greatest of All Time” — Ken Jennings was like any other contestant, hoping to win just one game.
On Monday, “Jeopardy!” fans have the rare opportunity to see Jennings’ first appearance on the show that aired June 2, 2004. The episode has not aired since its original broadcast, according to the “Jeopardy!” official website.
Ken Jennings’ history
Jennings auditioned for “Jeopardy!” in 2003, before there was an online test. He and a former Brigham Young University roommate drove from Utah to Los Angeles to audition, Jennings previously told the Deseret News.
About a year after that drive, Jennings was at his job in Salt Lake City (he was a software engineer for CHG Healthcare Services at the time) when he received the shocking phone call.
“Bob from ‘Jeopardy!’ was … like, ‘OK, we actually want to have you on (the show) in three weeks,’” Jennings recalled. “I’d totally forgotten that I had ever tried out for ’Jeopardy!’ and then I panicked because I had not been studying; I had not even been watching the show, and so then it was flashcards morning, noon and night.”
Jennings’ appearance on the show came at a significant time. Before the show’s 20th season premiere in 2003, contestants could only win five games (“Jeopardy! Greatest of All Time” player Brad Rutter, whose first appearance on the show was in 2000, likely would’ve won more than five games had this rule been lifted).
To celebrate the show’s 20th season, “Jeopardy!” producers changed the rule, allowing contestants to continue playing until being defeated — thus allowing Jennings to go on and win 74 games. Prior to Jennings’ run, the record winning streak was eight games.
What to expect in his first game
According to a Ken Jennings timeline, Jennings’ run on the show came close to ending during his first game.
Going into Final Jeopardy, Jennings had $20,000. He bet $17,201 of that amount on the final clue: “She’s the first female track & field athlete to win medals in five different events at a single Olympics.”
Jennings responded, “Who is Jones?” referencing Marion Jones.
Host Alex Trebek said, “We will accept that, in terms of female athletes, there aren’t that many.”
But if the response hadn’t been accepted, Jennings would have finished last, and his streak never would have started.
How to watch:
Jennings’ first “Jeopardy!” appearance will air Monday at 6:30 p.m. MT on KJZZ. Following that episode, “Jeopardy!” will re-broadcast its biggest tournament in the show’s history — the ”Greatest of All Time” tournament that aired in January and drew close to 15 million viewers per episode.
Here is the full broadcast schedule, according to the show’s website:
- May 4: Jennings’ first game (Original airdate: June 2, 2004)
- May 5: “Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time” Match 1, Game 1
- May 6: “Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time” Match 1, Game 2
- May 7: “Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time” Match 2, Game 1
- May 8: “Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time” Match 2, Game 2
- May 11: “Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time” Match 3, Game 1
- May 12: “Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time” Match 3, Game 2
- May 13: “Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time” Match 4, Game 1
- May 14: “Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time” Match 4, Game 2
- May 15: Jennings’ final game (Original airdate: Nov. 30, 2004)