‘Jeopardy!: The Greatest of All-Time’ crowns Ken Jennings winner

James Holzhauer, left, shakes Ken Jennings' hand after Jennings won his second match Thursday in the 'Jeopardy!: The Greatest of All Time' tournament. Brad Rutter, right watches. (Photo: Eric McCandless, ABC)

Clue: The greatest “Jeopardy!” player of all time. Question: Who is Ken Jennings?

The 45-year-old Washington state native Tuesday claimed the GOAT title, $1 million and the congratulations of revered host Alex Trebek with his third victory in four matches in ABC’s “Jeopardy: The Greatest of All Time” tournament, triumphing over fellow top money winners James Holzhauer and Brad Rutter.

Besides the competitive drama, the tournament has turned into a celebration of the skills and long-running tenure of Trebek, who is battling stage 4 pancreatic cancer. 

In the first game Tuesday, Jennings lead the way, standing at 32,800 before Final Jeopardy! Holzhauer was second with 22,800; Rutter had just 2,000 after wagering everything and losing on the first Daily Double.

The category of “It’s all Greece to me” further separated the players. The answer: “This area of Greece, home to Pan, is synonymous with a rural paradise; it’s a setting for Virgil’s shepherd poems the “Eclogues.’ “

Rutter’s responded with, “What is Bucolia?,” which was incorrect. He ended the game at zero. 

Holzhauer’s correct response was, “What is Arcadia?” He wagered 11,381 points, for a total of 34,181.

Jennings also had the correct question, and when Trebek revealed he had wagered his whole point total of 32,800, he mimicked Holzhauer’s famous “push,” earning a bow from the gesture’s creator. He ended the game with 65,600, leading Trebek to as, “Can he be beaten?”

​At the start of Game 2, Holzhauer cracked, “Hey, Brad’s score is still on there.” (Everyone had zero, of course.) And the competition heated up from there, but only between Holzhauer and Jennings. At the end of the second game, Holzhauer had 40,400 points, Jennings 23,000 and Rutter just 1,400. 

In the Final Jeopardy! category of Shakespeare’s tragedies, the clue was: “He has 272 speeches, the most of any non-title character in a Shakespeare tragedy.”

Rutter’s answer, “You are the best, Alex!” meant little, and he didn’t wager anything.

The tension mounted when Jennings’ correct response, “Who is Iago?” was revealed, and his wager of zero left him at 65,600, for a match total of 88,600.

Holzhauer looked stonefaced, and when his response of, “Who is Horatio?” was revealed, taking him down to zero, it was all over except the trophy ceremony..  

Jennings last week won the first and third matches, each determined by cumulative point totals from two games played during each night’s broadcast, before Tuesday’s clincher.

He won the first match by just 200 points over Holzhauer – 63,400 to 63,200 (although Jennings was far enough ahead to know Holzhauer’s ceiling in Game 2 Final Jeopardy!) – raising hopes for a tightly fought battle. That appeared more likely when Holzhauer won the second match Wednesday, but Jennings more than doubled Holzhauer’s total in Game 3, presaging Tuesday’s finale.

He and Rutter, who did not win any games or matches, will each receive $250,000 for taking part in the high-rated quiz-show spectacle.  

"Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebek told television critics last week he thought his ad-lib skills weren't up to par during the "Greatest of All Time" tournament. The competitors disagreed. (Photo: Stewart Cook/ABC)

ABC likely wished the special event, the first prime time platform for syndicated “Jeopardy!” since 1990, had extended to the maximum seven matches. The contest ranked as the week’s top entertainment program all three of last week’s matches, drawing a big audience of more than 16 million viewers.

Entering the tournament, all three competitors could lay claim to some “Jeopardy!” greatness label. Jennings, 45, owned the longest consecutive victory streak, winning 74 games and $2.52 million in 2004.

Rutter, 41, who first appeared in 2000, was limited to five games under the rules at that time, but he ranks as the biggest money winner on an American game show with a pre-GOAT tourney $4.68 million, most of it won during tournaments.

Alex Trebek interacts with "Jeopardy!" legends (from left to right): James Holzhauer, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. (Photo: Eric McCandless/ABC)

Holzhauer, 35, put “Jeopardy!” back in the headlines last spring, with an aggressive style and revolutionary betting approach that resulted in a single-game record of $131,127 and $2.46 million in winnings during a 32-game streak. (He added another $250,000 by winning November’s tournament of champions.)

Holzhauer’s success inspired the GOAT concept, Trebek told USA TODAY in an exclusive interview when the contest was announced in November. He provided a third worthy competitor to join Jennings and Rutter in the three-player game.

“When James had his run last year, a lot of people were wondering, ‘Well, how would he do against Ken Jennings? How would he do against Brad Rutter?’ (They’re) our two most successful players in ‘Jeopardy!’ history,” he says. “These three players have won close to $10 million in ‘Jeopardy!’ prize money and over 100 games among them, so it was logical.”

Contributing: Gary Levin

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