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.
As Trebek handed Jennings his GOAT trophy, he played along with the show's signature answer-and-question format: "It has taken 15 years for Ken Jennings to finally answer the question, 'Is he as good as he appeared to be in that great run on 'Jeopardy!' "
The excited champion joined Trebek center stage, asking, "Is that for me? Is that for me?" as he took hold of the clue-shaped award. He also goes home with $1 million.
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.
Tuesday's match was a battle between Jennings and Holzhauer, as it has been the whole tournament, with the two trading the lead throughout both games.
In the first matchup, Jennings led the way, standing at 32,800 before Final Jeopardy!
Jennings, who mimicked Holzhauer's famous "push" gesture as he wagered his entire points total, gave a correct response and ended the game with 65,600, leading Trebek to ask, "Can he be beaten?"
Holzhauer kicked off Game 2 with the crack, "Hey, Brad's score is still on there." (Everyone had zero, of course.) And the competition heated up from there – but still only between Holzhauer and Jennings.
In the Final Jeopardy! category, Shakespeare's tragedies, the clue was: "He has 272 speeches, the most of any non-title character in a Shakespeare tragedy." Rutter's "You are the best, Alex!" meant little, and he didn't wager anything, ending the game and the match with just 1,400 points.
The tension mounted when Jennings' correct response, "Who is Iago?" was revealed, but his wager of zero left him at 23,000, for a two-game total of 88,600.
Holzhauer appeared stone-faced and Trebek drew out the tension for a few seconds before revealing what turned out to be an incorrect response, "Who is Horatio?" In true fashion, Holzhauer had bet it all, so he ended the game with zero and a nightly total of 34,181. It was all over except for the trophy ceremony.
Holzhauer and Rutter, who won no games, will each receive $250,000 for taking part in the high-rated quiz-show spectacle.
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.
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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 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 total of $4.68 million, most of it won during tournaments.
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 worthy third 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