‘Jeopardy!’: How Ken Jennings Is a Rare ‘Exception’ on the Game Show

by Jennifer Shea
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Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

There is a generally accepted rule of thumb for Jeopardy! contestants: the ideal age at which to compete is in one’s early 30s. Current co-host and former champ Ken Jennings himself has even repeated this guidance.

But Jeopardy! fans on Reddit are now questioning if that’s true. And they point to Jennings himself as an exception to that rule.

“At least in the case of Ken, 2020 Ken seemed to be way better than 2004 Ken, despite being 45 in 2020 and 30 in 2004,” one fan posted, before going on to rattle off a series of comparison stats showing Jennings being “strictly dominated by James [Holzhauer].”

“What gives? Is Ken just a unicorn that get better as he ages, or is the ideal age of a contestant higher than previous theorized, perhaps more like 40?” the fan wondered.

Jeopardy! Fans Weigh in on Exceptions to Rule

Other fans quickly chimed in to discuss their own experiences with the aging process. There seemed to be some consensus that late 30s to early 40s is generally the age when knowledge retention and sharpness of recall are at their peak – and while people usually accumulate more knowledge as they age, they are typically not as quick to retrieve it after that point.

“From my own experience, I was intellectually sharpest at 35,” one fan posted. “After that, I noticed gradually that it became more and more difficult to retrieve known information. At the age of 75, I often find that I cannot retrieve things I knew previously.”

“I feel like this is the age a lot of authors write their great books as well,” another fan agreed.

“FWIW, I was 41 for my first games, 42 for the ToC,” former contestant Jennifer Quail posted. “I’m pretty sure Amy is older than I am. I think upper thirties/early forties are probably a sweet spot between any loss of physical reaction time and breadth of knowledge.”

It may well be that in Jennings’ case, he just didn’t peak until he reached his 40s. And as other fans pointed out, in the Greatest of All Time competition, Jennings tailored his game plan to account for Holzhauer’s strengths and weaknesses.

Jennings Misses Alex Trebek

After the late, great Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek passed away of stage 4 pancreatic cancer on Nov. 8, 2020, it fell to Jennings to fill in as the first guest host. And, after a season of rotating celebrity guest hosts, he’s recently been back before the cameras co-hosting in alternation with actress Mayim Bialik.

“I don’t want to be out here. I want to see Alex out here,” Jennings said in a Jeopardy! behind-the-scenes interview last year. “I know exactly how they [the audience] feel when they see anybody else behind this lectern.”

But, as Jennings noted, Jeopardy! has an audience in the millions, and the show must go on. And as an all-time champion of Jeopardy!, Jennings now has his own fans – as well as his detractors – who tune in to watch him play or host.

“The main thing I learned is just what an impressive, perfect job Alex Trebek did behind this lectern for 36, 37 years,” Jennings said. “And I thought I knew from over there. I thought I had studied the man, and I understood just what a remarkable job he was doing… I thought I understood it all. And then when I had to do it, I realized he was doing ten things I wasn’t aware of for every one that I saw. It’s a very demanding job and he was just the best.”

Watch Jennings’s comments on hosting here:

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