‘Jeopardy!’ Winner and Interim-Host Ken Jennings Has Previous Work Organizing Quiz Competitions

by Emily Morgan

Ken Jennings had been preparing for quiz show stardom long before becoming an overnight success on “Jeopardy!” In addition to being a religious “Jeopardy!” viewer since a young boy, he also participated in quiz bowls during his academic career. While completing his Computer Science and English degree at Brigham Young University, Jennings acted as the team captain on his school’s quiz bowl team.

At the same time, he began writing and editing questions for National Academic Quiz Tournaments. Every year, the company organizes quiz competitions for hundreds of colleges and thousands of high schools all across the country.

After graduating, Jennings witnessed his friends from college transition from quiz bowls to famous game shows such as “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” After this, Jennings put “Jeopardy!” at the forefront of his mind.

“We play quiz bowl because it’s fun. I think we all carry around in our brain just years or decades’ worth of facts,” Jennings said during an interview about his experience with quiz bowl. “It reinforces this idea that there’s this cannon of essential knowledge that kind of keeps our culture united.

Ken Jennings Quiz Bowl Experience Prepared Him For ‘Jeopardy!’ Streak

In 2004, while working as a software engineer in Salt Lake City, he got the phone call he had been waiting for all his life. On the other end of the phone, a “Jeopardy!” producer told him that he had wowed the producers with his audition and that he would appear on “Jeopardy!” that summer.

Even though Jennings had been preparing his whole life for this moment, he spent a month making flashcards and cramming on trivia subjects. Little did he know, his “Jeopardy!” appearance would extend far beyond a single episode.

Thankfully, Jennings utilized the new rule in “Jeopardy!” that allowed contestants to appear on the show indefinitely. For six months, Jennings had his own podium and stunned viewers with an unprecedented winning streak.

On November 30, after winning 47 games and racking up $2.52 million, Jennings ended his run when he didn’t know enough H&R Block trivia. As for Jennings, he advises anyone who wants to get on “Jeopardy!” to play quiz bowl beforehand.

“The way to be a good “Jeopardy!” player is to be a curious person. Just by paying attention to the world and the culture around you, you’re going to hear 99 percent of the things that “Jeopardy!” will ask you about,” Jennings said. “In quiz bowl, you really have to try to win. It becomes a pursuit to not just come across interesting pieces of knowledge but to literally spend your days stuffing them into your head. It’s the best possible preparation for “Jeopardy!”