Skip to main content
Culture+Society

Ken Jennings finally provides the answers

The Jeopardy! host on weird spreadsheets, waterlogged bugs, and his other favorite quiz show

By Schuyler Velasco

Ken Jennings is the host of Jeopardy! and the show’s most decorated player.

Where do you come up with your best ideas?
On airplanes. I come up with my worst ideas in dreams, but until I wake up I’m convinced that they’re amazing.

What is your most indelible childhood memory?
I tried to check a world atlas out of the library when I was five and they wouldn’t let me because it was in the reference section.

What opportunity do you regret passing up?  
In 2004 I had an offer to play myself on the daytime soap One Life to LiveJeopardy! didn’t want me to do it.

How do you relax?

Hiking and drawing are good, maybe a 3 or 5 on a 10-point relaxation scale. Making a weird spreadsheet list of something that no one has ever compiled or even cared about before is a 10.

What’s the most valuable thing you learned in school?

Almost all creative work was better — and paradoxically easier to produce — with constraints than without.

What Jeopardy! clue still haunts you?
Every Jeopardy! player is haunted by the bullet with their name on it, the final clue they got wrong. John McCain, apparently, went to his grave still bemoaning a Final Jeopardy about Wuthering Heights. I’m lucky to have had all those ghosts exorcised by winning the GOAT tournament and then getting hired to host the show. Unfortunately this path is not replicable at scale and all the other contestants must continue to rehash old Daily Doubles with their therapists until the end of time.

What is your proudest moment?

One of my kids once jumped, fully clothed, into a swimming pool at a fancy function to save some waterlogged bugs.

Other than Jeopardy!, what’s your favorite game show? 

For many years I’ve been obsessed with a British quiz show called Only Connect. The title is an E.M. Forster reference, it shoots in Wales, there is no prize, and the game itself is about one hundred times more complicated and difficult than Jeopardy! I know this sounds like the premise of a David Foster Wallace story but I swear it exists.

If you had to choose a different profession, what would you do?
Maybe it’s not too late for me to become one of those old guys that owns a used bookstore full of cats.

Published on

Schuyler Velasco is Experience’s deputy editor. Previously, her work has appeared in The Christian Science MonitorSalonThe Forward, and others.

 

Illustration by Joel Kimmel

Culture+Society

Why some chefs are still loyal to gas stoves — and some aren’t

Phasing out natural gas might depend, in part, on winning over the professionals.

By Margaret Eby