‘Jeopardy!’ Tournament of Champions Winner Speaks on Making a Career out of Victory Like Ken Jennings

by Will Shepard

Back in mid-April, Sam Kavanaugh won the Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions. However, the episode wasn’t released until Friday of Memorial Day weekend. So, the Minneapolis substitute teacher had to keep the secret to himself.

Kavanaugh won a massive prize, $250,000. The prize money came in the mail, and he was overjoyed to receive the massive check.

“Because of the holiday, I haven’t been able to deposit it yet,” Kavanaugh told the Star Tribune. “I’ll be going to the bank right after this phone call.”

During the interview with the Minneapolis magazine, he talked about how his win came to be. He talked about his strategies, weaknesses, how he will spend the money, and what he plans to do next. Most importantly, he noted that he wants his career to emulate the legend, Ken Jennings.

How Kavanaugh Strategized a Game Plan Before Going Into the ‘Jeopardy!’ Tournament

First, he explained his strategy for the Jeopardy! tournament. He called it his strength going into the game show. But, he also admitted that he wasn’t the smartest person in the room.

“Of the 15 competitors, I was probably somewhere in the middle,” Kavanaugh said humbly. “I take advantage of betting well, especially on Daily Doubles and Final Jeopardy. I’m very aware of the point values. I also know what I don’t know.”

With that knowledge in his back pocket, so he made sure to only take questions that he knew. He never seemed to guess at an answer.

Additionally, he said that his biggest weakness is not being able to put a name to a face. So, the Jeopardy! winner said that he spent a lot of time with flashcards to help his memory out.

Furthermore, the publication asked Kavanaugh about how hard the questions were in the tournament. The game show contestant said that he tried to make his practice at home as close to the real thing.

For him, that meant standing “behind the couch with a pen to click and wear clothes that I would wear on air. In previous tournaments, I would score between 20 to 25% less than usual. So, I knew they would be harder going in, but I had time to prepare.”

Emulating Ken Jennings in the Future

Kavanaugh also explained that getting used to Buzzy Cohen’s rhythm was a challenge at first. However, he eventually understood when he was going to end his question.

“I was having a problem getting used to the cadences of the guest host [former tourney champ Buzzy Cohen]. You can’t ring in until the host is done with the question,” the Jeopardy! winner explained. “If you do, you’re locked out for a half-second. I started to get his rhythm in the second round and later doubled my score with a Daily Double. I ended up winning with $20,000.”

Finally, Kavanaugh talked about how he thinks that becoming similar to Ken Jennings would be awesome. He also said that he would love to be invited back to Jeopardy! to keep proving himself.

“I’m kind of open to possibilities. I don’t think I would make a good host. I don’t think I have the personality. If they asked, I would say yes, but I doubt they will,” Kavanaugh said. “Every four or five years, they tend to have super tournaments with past champs. I might be back for that. I love testing myself against the best players.”