ICYMI: We caught up with Ken Jennings at his home in Seattle to talk about the impact of Jeopardy! (or the J!Effect) on his life. With such a big story and a knack for telling it (he is a writer, after all), the discussion of the J!Effect in Ken’s life couldn’t fit into just one video. Here are 11 more insights Ken shared with us about life after that legendary streak, including besting Charo in a round of trivia about Charo, getting tongue-in-cheek life advice from Alec Baldwin and more.
1. “I never thought we could afford a house in Seattle.”
Well, you know it’s some crazy windfall (to win) like that when you’re 30. You’re like, “I don’t even know – what do I do with this [money]?” So I had a lot of it stocked away for kids’ college or for retirement. … You know, we moved back to Seattle, which was great. I was from here, but I never thought we could afford a house in Seattle.
2. “I feel like a better dad, basically.”
I work from home, so I get to see the kids more. I’m here when they get home from school and I give them their peanut butter on celery, and ask them what they did today. So I feel like a better dad, basically. … My office is right by the door and they just run right in. They’ve still got their backpacks on, [calling,] “Hey, Dad!” I’m their first call. And that’s worth more than all of the winnings right there.
3. “My son is really fixated with Jeopardy!”
My son was 3 when I was first on Jeopardy! My daughter wasn’t even born yet. So they don’t even remember. But they’ve sort of become aware of it. Every time I go back on the show, it’s very exciting for them. I know my son in particular is really fixated with Jeopardy! He really wants to be a contestant someday. He’s always talking about, “I don’t want to go on the Teen Tournament. I wanna keep my eligibility for when I’m grown-up.” So apparently he’s got a 20-year plan for his Jeopardy! path to power. I wish him all the best.
4. “Jeopardy! gave me friends, even.”
Jeopardy!’s really a full-service show. I actually have friends now that I met on the show. … There’s a friend of ours [here] in Seattle, he just lives a mile down the road now. And we played on the same game of Jeopardy! back in ‘04, and when we moved up here we became friends. And now, we go on vacation with [his] family every summer. So you guys do it all. Jeopardy! gave me friends, even.
5. “I can’t believe I’m doing this.”
The most surreal “I can’t believe I’m doing this” moment was when I was on “Sesame Street,” right after Jeopardy! I got to go on, and me and Grover were talking about how you’ve gotta eat fresh fruits and vegetables. And I was a “Sesame Street” kid, so just … you know, hanging out in Mr. Hooper’s store, looking at all the boxes on the shelves … I got to come up out of Oscar’s trash can. I was like, “I can’t believe this is happening.” Jeopardy!’s still my favorite show, but “Sesame Street” – that’s pretty cool, too.
6. “I got to read a Top 10 List on ‘Letterman.’”
I got to read a Top 10 List on “Letterman,” which my high school self would have freaked out about. And I was sort of freaking out about [it]. And it means a lot, you know. Especially now that Dave’s not on TV every night anymore, you know? The fact that I got to be just a little part of that show – that was a very exciting moment.
I was on “Letterman” with Alec Baldwin the night my last show aired, and he came up to me in the makeup chair and [said], “Ken, you won a lot of this money. Here’s what you gotta do: Don’t give a cent of this money to charity. Go on vacations to Vegas, buy jet skis – don’t you give any of this away!” (laughs)
7. “I say yes to things now, and I used to not say yes.”
I used to be more like, “Hmm, do I really want to do that? How long is the flight? Is there a layover?” I was not into change or inconvenience. And now I say yes to everything. “Sure, I’ll try that once. Why not?” And it really is because of Jeopardy! I said yes, and it was a crazy good time. And a lot of the stuff I’ve been able to do since has been really fun, too.
8. “I beat Charo at Charo trivia.”
I was hosting this thing for the Game Show Network, and they asked me to come to this “Game Show Awards” they had. And I didn’t know until I got there, but it turns out they wanted me to face off against Charo in a round of trivia about Charo. And I beat Charo at Charo trivia, [and] I don’t want to toot my own horn here, but I’m pretty proud of that. I’m prouder of that than Jeopardy!, if I’m being honest. I was just surprised by how little Charo knew about her oeuvre – about her body of work. It turned out I had a lot clearer reminiscence of a lot of those “The Love Boat” appearances than she did, for whatever reason.
9. “Everybody is just haunted by the Final Jeopardy! [clue] they lose.”
Everybody remembers the bullet that gets them. Everybody remembers the question they miss. I was reading this interview with John McCain, who was on Jeopardy! in the ‘60s, and he remembered the Final Jeopardy! [clue] that he lost! Everybody is just haunted by the Final Jeopardy! [clue] they lose. It doesn’t matter if it’s game 75 or game 1.
(After losing on a clue about H&R Block,) to this day H&R Block does my taxes, because I have a lifetime of free H&R Block [services]. So if you’re going to lose on Jeopardy! don’t lose on, “What is Belgium?” Belgium’s not writing you a check. Wait for the corporate question.
10. “I hope I live to see [my record] beat.”
I keep waiting for somebody to make a run. I know it can be done, that’s the thing. I guarantee you it can be done. ... I have to assume there’s some plateau past 20 games where somebody’s just gonna sail. That’s my prediction. I think it’s beatable. I hope I live to see it beat.
11. “Jeopardy! was always my first love.”
I’ve been on a bunch of other quiz shows since Jeopardy! I was on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” I was on “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” – I’m not, by the way, smarter than a fifth grader, it turns out. But it’s a very different experience … that’s usually them calling me and being like, “Hey, do you wanna be on this game show?” And I’m like, “Sure, I love game shows.” But Jeopardy! was always my first love. That was what I ran home from school to watch. So there it really felt like destiny, just being on Jeopardy!, man. Like, win or lose, I didn’t waste my life – I was on Jeopardy! for half an hour! Everything else is just gravy.
Watch Part 1, the video: Ken Jennings: ‘Jeopardy! Changed Everything’
Has Jeopardy! changed your life? Tell us your J!Effect story!