Jeopardy! Champ has military tie

U.S. Navy screenshot by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Leon Wong/Released
U.S. Navy screenshot by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Leon Wong/Released

Jeopardy! Champ has military tie

by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Leon Wong
AFN Broadcast Center

Ken Jennings, the greatest Jeopardy! champion of all time, had a strong childhood connection to the United States military.

“My family moved to South Korea when I was seven and we lived there for over a decade, so I grew up in Seoul, near Yongsan which is the big Army installation there at the time,” said Jennings in a Skype interview with the AFN Broadcast Center in Riverside, California.

They had originally moved to the Republic of Korea because his father was a lawyer at an international law firm. His mother worked as a Department of Defense dependent school teacher on Yongsan and the family grew up watching AFN television.

“Luckily for me and all of my embassy and ex-pat friends, we had American Forces Korea Network showing us U.S. TV programming. We could watch the Super Bowl and Growing Pains and all of the 80s TV.”

There was only one AFN TV service at that time on the network then known as the American Forces Korea Network (AFKN).

“I loved to read, but we watched plenty of TV,” said Jennings. “Jeopardy was a very easy sell. It was on right after school so me and my friends watched Jeopardy! every day because there was nothing else on. There was only one channel thanks to AFN. Jeopardy’s educational so no one ever complained about that and my parents loved game shows.”

Jennings said he idolized the contestants as a child, but it wasn’t until he got to college and started playing on a quiz bowl team where he had met people who had actually been on Jeopardy! where he started to believe he could make it happen.

In 2004, he decided on a whim to try out for the show. From there it began his 74-show winning streak from June to November 2004. He earned $2,520,700 during his run. He also appeared in other game shows as well as reappearances on Jeopardy! for other tournaments and challenges, including his win on Jeopardy! Greatest of All Time.

“It’s going to really hard to top winning the Jeopardy! GOAT tournament because beating James and Brad, that’s the toughest competition I’ll ever face,” said Jennings. “I got some breaks, you know. I got a little lucky on that one. I’m pretty much retired from being a Jeopardy! contestant.

There’s nothing else I could do on that stage that would top that.”

Finding time to prepare for the tournament as a full-time author, father and husband proved to be a bit easier than expected.

“There’s a sweet spot for when you can be good at Jeopardy! and trivia,” said Jennings. “You have to be old enough to know your parents’ generation but young enough to know pop music. Being a dad helps with that. I have to know all the memes or I’m not going to know what my kids are talking about. It really annoys them if I know a meme before they do. It’s a very important weapon for a parent.”

Jennings also discovered living overseas and traveling helped him prepare for his game-show career.

“People in the service can probably attest to this,” said Jennings. “It makes you curious about a [place] when you’ve been there. It makes it easier to learn new things about it. I remember living in Korea and just starting to get really interested in the culture of other parts of the world, but also geography and American geography.”

Jennings continued, “Because I wasn’t growing up in the states, I would kind of study U.S. road atlases of all these exotic places. Places that sounded really far away from me because we were living on the other side of the world.”

Although his time on Jeopardy! has come to an end, he still expresses interest in working on game shows.

“Maybe on the other side of the podium,” said Jennings. “It’s nicer if you have the answers in front of you. Now that I’m not a contestant, I think that’s an easier job.”

Across all his game-show appearances, Jennings has earned a total of $5,223,414. He is the second highest-earning contestant on Jeopardy! with $4,522,700. Jennings resides in Seattle, and is a full-time author.

Jennings shared a special message to the men and women of the U.S. armed forces.

“Just want to thank everybody that’s serving and to remind them to really pay close attention to Jeopardy when they watch AFN because if they’re anything like me, it’s really going to pay off someday.”

Maybe someday, someone watching AFN right now will grow up to become the next generation’s greatest Jeopardy! contestant of all time.

Photo Caption:
MARCH AIR RESERVE BASE, Calif. Ken Jennings, winner of the Jeopardy! Greatest of All Time tournament, shares his experiences growing up overseas and watching American Forces Network (AFN) as a child during a Skype interview. AFN is a worldwide broadcast network that serves American servicemembers, Department of Defense and other U.S. government civilians and their families stationed at bases overseas, as well as U.S. Navy ships at sea.

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