Fans of “Jeopardy!” will likely see Ken Jennings as a familiar face. It’s hard not to since he’s spent so much time at the “Jeopardy!” studio with a buzzer in hand, half-hidden behind a tall podium.
Jennings won 74 consecutive episodes back in 2004. That is until Nancy Zerg knocked him off the show after Jennings didn’t know enough about H&R Block.
Viewers of the show were either fascinated by the trivia genius (or the G.O.A.T now) or irritated (and a tad jealous) by his continued presence. It was likely a little bit of both.
Even Jennings started to let the length of his time on “Jeopardy!” get to him.
For someone that knows an absurd amount of random facts, it’s a bit strange that Jennings resorted to fiction while on the show.
At the end of the day, there just wasn’t 74 things he felt like sharing with the millions of viewers tuning in.
Ken Jennings Makes Up Facts on ‘Jeopardy!’
In a 2020 interview with Vulture, Jennings revealed that he actually ran out of fun stories about himself after the first round of shows that he did.
“But every week, Jeopardy! would call and be like, ‘You’re taping again next week, we need more stories for your cards!’ I didn’t have any other stories to share. I’m gonna admit that sometimes I’d make things up. I wouldn’t pretend to be a hero or anything, but you can put anything on those cards. The show doesn’t fact-check that stuff. Alex would look at my card and be like, ‘Hey, Ken, it says here you really like airline food.’ And I’d be like, ‘I do Alex, I kind of think it’s a fun treat!’ He has to tilt his head and look quizzically at you regardless of what you say,” Jennings said.
Contestants can say whatever they want for their anecdotes. It’s almost surprising Jennings didn’t come up with more extravagant stories and fun facts so that the public could be even more in on the joke.
Jennings also shared his experience being on the show for the first time. It was a close episode and he actually almost lost when it came down to Final Jeopardy. He really wanted to win that first game since he was a huge fan. He said he even had some of the best contestants’ names from over the years memorized.
During his Final Jeopardy question, he only put down the last name of the answer. This is commonly accepted on the show. However, the answer was Marion Jones. The last name Jones is fairly common and the producers paused on accepting the answer since Jennings could have just guessed a popular last name.
1950s Game Show Scandals
In that Vulture interview, Jennings mentioned that he never really got to spend much time with longtime “Jeopardy!” host, Alex Trebek. The contestants had to stay away from the staff of the show since they know all the answers to the upcoming episodes.
Alex does as well. He studies all the clues before he hosts each episode. The contestants don’t get to see him until the start of the episode.
These rules are all a part of strict FCC regulations. These regulations came to be from a number of scandals that happened in the 1950s on several different game shows. These regulations make sure the shows are authentic.
It was revealed that there were a number of contestants on popular TV quiz shows that were given answers to questions by the show’s producers. The producers were therefore prearranging the outcomes of the competition. Some of these shows include “Twenty-One,” “The Big Surprise,” “Dotto,” and “The $64,000 Challenge.”
No one ever went to prison for rigging game shows. At the time, while obviously looked down upon, it was not illegal. One contestant, Charles Van Doren, had been a regular on NBC’s “The Today Show.” He lost his job in the industry after it was revealed that he was given correct answers on “Twenty-One.”
He was silent on the matter for years before breaking his silence in a 2008 New Yorker essay. He grappled with his involvement for the remainder of his life.
According to History.com, these scandals actually made it possible for “Jeopardy!” to eventually exist. Merv Griffin was saddened about the fact networks had abandoned game shows because the contestants were given the answers and they were now tainted. His wife said, “Why don’t you give them the answers?” This is where the concept of the show came from.