There is a cult of celebrity surrounding Jeopardy. Yes, some people appeared on Jeopardy and later became famous . And yes, there are occasional celebrity tournaments on Jeopardy. But Jeopardy is the sort of show that makes its own celebrities.
The pre-famous Jeopardy celebrity
The former prisoner of war, US Senator, and US Presidential nominee John McCain made an early appearance on the first incarnation of Jeopardy in 1965, back when it aired as a daytime game show (1964-1975). McCain won the first episode, but was knocked out in the Final Jeopardy round on the second day - he couldn’t remember Heathcliff’s name from the book 'Wuthering Heights'.
It goes without saying that Jeopardy’s MVP is host Alex Trebek. The Canadian-born host isn’t the first host of the show. That honour goes to Art Fleming who hosted two different versions of it on NBC. A 1984 revival brought game show veteran Alex Trebek on to host the show and he’s remained in the role ever since. Prior to hosting Jeopardy, Trebek had hosted a variety of game shows including The Wizard of Odds, High Rollers, Double Dare (no, not the show you’re thinking of), and Battlestars. Trebek was so in-demand as a host that at one stage he hosted High Rollers in the US at the same time that he was hosting Canadian game show The $128,000 Question.
Trebek has gone on to take on an iconic status, known the world-over for hosting Jeopardy. He has appeared as himself in TV shows as diverse as How I Met Your Mother, The Magic School Bus, Hot In Cleveland, and The X-Files.
Watch Alex Trebek in The X-Files episode 'Jose Chung's 'from Outer Space':
The most hardcore fans of Jeopardy will be quick to tell you that Trebek is not the only draw card talent on the show. There’s also the Clue Crew. These are the regular correspondents who appear in videos featured on the show, giving clues from a wide variety of interesting locations around the world.
So far they have visited 46 different countries and have been to all seven continents. When the Clue Crew travel, there are often opportunities for dedicated Jeopardy fans to experience what the Jeopardy website terms “experiential travel”. Others may refer to this as branded travel packages.
Current Clue Crew are Sarah Whitcomb Foss and Jimmy McGuire - both have been members of the Clue Crew since its formation in 2001.
In 2010, the Clue Crew came down under to Australia where they recorded clues showcasing unique Australian geography and culture.
Contestants made famous on Jeopardy
While the show has produced a large number of memorable contestants, there are four at the top of the heap that deserve being singled out.
First there are the Greatest of All Time players.
The most well-known GOAT is Ken Jennings. The highest earning US game show contestant of all-time, Jennings won 74 straight games in 2004, resulting in winnings of $2,520,700. He has been invited back on the show a number of times to appear in various tournaments, including the Jeopardy: Greatest of All-Time tournament held early in 2020. His million dollar win during that game added to Jennings total Jeopardy takings which currently stand at $5,522,700.
His Jeopardy fame led to Jennings writing multiple books, making a slew of media appearances, and, like everyone else, he now has a podcast.
Brad Rutter might be the second heist earning American game show contestant, but as it stands right now, even with Jennings 2020 GOAT tournament win, Rutter has still won more money playing Jeopardy than Jennings has. In an interesting trivia note, Rutter’s initial appearance on the show was in 2000, prior to the 2003 rule change that meant contestants could just keep on playing regardless of how often they had won. Rutter, after five consecutive wins, was forced to bow out undefeated. Rutter has since returned for five different Jeopardy tournaments.
The third GOAT is James Holzhauer who holds the highest win for a single game of Jeopardy - $131,127. This game show maverick is known for his brash style and currently ranks third in Jeopardy winnings. His first appearance on Jeopardy was only last year in 2019, so there’s still plenty of tournaments ahead for him to move up in the rankings.
As good as Jennings and Rutter are, there is one contestant who beat them both in a tournament: Watson, a computer developed by IBM.
Watson was purpose-built to play Jeopardy at the highest level. Following on from the success of building chess-playing computer Deep Blue, IBM set out to build a question and answer-focused computer that would combine machine learning, information retrieval, and reasoning technologies. In partnership with Jeopardy, IBM then sponsored a tournament that would have Watson face off against Jennings and Rutter.
So far Watson hasn’t enslaved humanity, but the future remains bright for the computer.
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