If you know me at all or have ever tried to get ahold of me between 4:30-5pm CST you know that I am a Jeopardy! superfreak. I have been watching the show daily since around college and could improv a 30-minute Ted Talk on the history of Jeopardy!, the great champions, and other random facts about the worlds greatest game show.
Needless to say I am very hyped for the Jeopardy! Greatest of All Time tournament that starts Tuesday night on ABC. I have gotten a lot of questions from friends and family about this special format so let’s fire up that old writing style where I do a fake Q-and-A but am writing both parts.
So what exactly is this tournament? How will this determine the greatest player of all time?
Jeopardy! is known for hosting multiple regular tournaments including the Teachers Tournament, Teen Tournament, College Championship, and the much-beloved Tournament of Champions. They also hold occasional one-off tournaments like the Battle of the Decades in 2014 or the All-Star Games held last year.
Now Jeopardy! is capitalizing on the recent ratings surge and fan-favorite James Holzhauer to put together a tournament with the three best players of all time, James, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. As Alex Trebek has said in interviews, they have always wanted to do something like this but needed a player of Holzhauer’s caliber to emerge to match up with the other two heavyweights Ken and Brad.
I know the Holzhauer guy because he has been in the news. Ken is the guy who won a hundred games in a row or whatever. Who the hell is this Brad Rutabaga fella?
Ha, Brad Rutter is definitely the least-known of the three despite being all the all-time money winner in Jeopardy! history. Not only does he have the most cash, Rutter has actually never lost to a human ever in this game. His only loss came to an IBM computer in another special one-off tournament. He has won every tournament he has played in, including besting Jennings on multiple occasions.
So why is he a bit of an unknown outside of Jeopardy! freaks like myself? Timing. He made his original run back in 2000 when there was a strict 5-game cap for returning champions. Once you won five games you were done. The rule changed in 2004 and that is when Ken Jennings went on his 74-game win streak. Who knows what would have happened if Brad played in a time when champions played until they lost? Who knows. Maybe he would still be playing in like match 4,000.
So what is the format of this thing? One game to determine a GOAT?
Nope, much more involved than that. Each night they will play two games back-to-back, hence the hour-long runtime on ABC. Whoever has the most money from the two games combined will win the match. First one to win three matches is crowned the Greatest of All Time. So we don’t know how long this will last. Although unlikely, it could go just three nights if somebody gets hot and has a clean sweep. Or it could go as long as seven nights if they are all tied at two a piece and play one more for all the cash.
Speaking of cash, what do these guys get if they win?
Winner walks home with a cool million bucks. Second and third walk away with $250,000 each. I wish the bar trivia I go to had payouts like this.
Who are you rooting for? You must have a favorite of these three.
I have been thinking about that since the tournament has been announced. I still can’t decide. All three of these guys are great dudes who all seem to genuinely enjoy each other and clearly have a deep love and respect for the game. This isn’t like one of those 80s movies or a professional wrestling match where there are clear good/bad guys. All three are very likable. This may sound like a bit of a cop-out, but I am just rooting for this thing go to a full seven games. I want as much GOAT as possible.
OK I will ask that question a different way. Who do you think will win?
A very tough question as these guys are all very good, hence why they are in this tournament. You can make a case for all three.
James has played the most recently and will be the most fresh on the buzzer. When you get players this good together all of them will know the answer to the majority of the questions so it comes down to who has the hottest buzzer. It really is a science and these guys are good at it. James is also known for his unique style of play where he racks up early cash before Daily Double hunting and going all-in. If he gets hot early and connects on a couple Daily Doubles he could put matches away early and make them runaways.
There is a reason that Ken Jennings won 74-games in a row. The guy is obviously smart with a deep knowledge base and is a machine on the buzzer. He is the most well-known Jeopardy! player ever…but he has never beaten Brad. Could this be the time he finally gets over the hump against his rival and good friend?
And then there is Brad, the most successful player of all time. As much as I love James and Ken…I wouldn’t bet against Brad until someone proves they can get the best of him. They say this is a tournament where they are crowning the Greatest of All Time, but in my opinion, Brad already holds that crown and this tournament is to see if Ken or James have what it takes to bring down the king.
Awesome. I now know more about Jeopardy! than I ever thought I would in my life. Anything else we should know?
I am telling people to savor this and enjoy it. As well know, the legendary Alex Trebek is in a battle with pancreatic cancer right now. Nobody knows how much longer he will be hosting this show. He has already openly talked about how he has been rehearsing what he will say on his final show. The outpouring of support from current and former players has been incredible to watch and caused many tears to roll.
There will be other big Jeopardy tournaments. In fact, if the ratings are high for this one I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a rematch tournament sooner than later. Jeopardy will continue but we don’t know how long it will continue with Alex Trebek. So I plan on cherishing every show, every little contestant chat, every clue read by the true Jeopardy GOAT: Alex Trebek.