On November 30, 2004, after winning 74 straight games and more than $2.5 million—a record for U.S. game shows—Jeopardy! contestant Ken Jennings loses. Jennings’ extended winning streak gave the game show a huge ratings boost and turned the software engineer from Salt Lake City, Utah into a TV hero and household name. Barbara Walters named him one of the 10 most fascinating people of the year and Jennings appeared on such shows as Late Night with David Letterman, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and even Sesame Street.
Jennings' final game came down to the Final Jeopardy round, where contestants were presented with the clue: "Most of this firm’s 70,000 seasonal white-collar employees work only four months a year." Jennings' challenger Nancy Zerg correctly asked, "What is H&R Block?", putting her winning total $1 more than his. All eyes were then on Jennings, who revealed his incorrect question: "What is FedEx?"
During his run, Jennings provided the correct question to 2,693 clues and missed only 263. One of his winning strategies was his quickness on the buzzer; he beat his competitors to the question more than 60 percent of the time.
Jennings, who was born in 1974, outside of Seattle, Washington, graduated from Brigham Young University in 2000, where he headed the school’s national quiz bowl team.
At the time of Jennings’ appearance, Jeopardy! was well-established as one of the top-rated game shows in American history. Created by TV talk-show host and entertainment mogul Merv Griffin (1925-2007), Jeopardy! debuted in 1964 on NBC, with Art Fleming serving as host. Griffin (who went on to create another hugely popular, long-running game show, Wheel of Fortune, which premiered in 1975) suggested a format in which contestants were given trivia answers in a variety of categories and then required to come up with the questions. Cancelled in 1975, Jeopardy! returned briefly, airing from 1978 through 1979. In September 1984, a syndicated version of Jeopardy! launched with Alex Trebek as host and Johnny Gilbert as the announcer.
The erudite Trebek, who was born in 1940 in Sudbury, Ontario, began his broadcast career in Canada and moved to America in the early 1970s, where he hosted such game shows as High Rollers and Battlestars. In 1991, he became the first person ever to host three game shows at one time, when he served as master of ceremonies for Jeopardy! along with Classic Concentration and To Tell the Truth.
After more than three decades on Jeopardy!, Trebek died of stage 4 pancreatic cancer on November 8, 2020. On November 23, 2020, it was announced Jennings would serve as interim host of Jeopardy!