Ken Jennings has picked up the torch left by his friend and mentor Alex Trebek. The co-host of Jeopardy! seemed poised for some time to take over the lectern. When he finally did, Trebek’s family left him a touching gift. Let’s learn what happened.
When Jennings Met Trebek
The fabled run of Jennings as a contestant is the stuff of legends. A rule change on Jeopardy! in 2003 allowed contestants to extend their stay beyond five consecutive wins. On June 2, 2004, Jennings won his first game of Jeopardy!. Lo and behold, 73 games later and he was still the champion.
The streak finally came to an end on November 30, 2004. The crowd audibly gasped when he failed to answer the clue: “Most of this firm’s 70,000 seasonal white-collar employees work only four months a year.” It was H&R Block, but Jennings answered FedEx. Oof.
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Still, he shattered Tom Walsh’s records of $186,900 over eight games. Jennings won $2,522,700 over 74. Both of these records still stand today, with James Holzhauer coming closest with an earning total of $2,462,216. It’s worth noting Brad Rutter is the all-time leader in winnings once you factor in tournaments with a grand total of $4,938,436. Amy Schneider recently came closest to unseating Jennings’ games total with 40. That’s a monumental achievement that’s just a little over halfway there.
Looking Back On Trebek
When Trebek died in 2020, Jennings was the first guest host brought in. Many Jeopardy! fans felt he was the natural successor to Trebek given that he was already the name most closely associated with the show and had hosting experience. The fact he was chosen first of all guest hosts proves he was a trusted and steady hand.
The hosting fiasco aside, producers eventually selected Jennings and Mayim Bialik to permanently co-host. It was far more arduous a process than it needed to be, and fans continue to debate between the pair to this day.
A Touching Gift From The Trebeks
The first hosting day for Ken Jennings came weeks after Alex Trebek’s passing. In a video for the official Jeopardy! YouTube page, Jennings recalled a touching moment he experienced while everyone was going through a tough time without Trebek.
“I got to the studio and one of the producers handed me a little box,” Jennings says. “Alex’s wife Jean had given me a pair of his cuff links that he had worn on the show.”
The kindness of the gesture is not lost on Jennings: “What a lovely gesture that was from Jean. You know, at a time that was very hard for her family, dealing with a lot of grief and a lot of challenges, she thought about Jeopardy! and she thought about me, a person she had never even met. And I just thought, ‘What a lovely thing to do.’”
Jennings continues to wear them on the show. “My Alex Trebek cufflinks are the only cufflinks I own. They’re kind of a good luck charm for me here,” he said. What a lovely memento bridging one host to the next. When episodes start back up, keep an eye out for the cufflinks on Jennings as a quiet tribute to Trebek.