Ken Jennings Says He Will Never Play "Jeopardy!" Again—And Not Because He's Host
The former champ could get the okay from producers, but he has a good reason for not competing.
Don't expect to see Ken Jennings with a Jeopardy! buzzer in his hand ever again—he says that his days of playing the game are completely over. The host came to fame as a contestant on the game show in 2004 when he won a record-setting 74 games. (That record still holds, by the way. In second place is Amy Schneider with 40 wins in 2022.) Since 2021, Jennings has played a different role on the show, sharing hosting duties with Mayim Bialik. They both replaced long-time host Alex Trebek, who died in 2020 and had hosted the show for 36 years.
With tournaments that routinely bring back champions, fans have wondered whether Jennings will ever try his hand at the game again in the future. In a new interview, he shared that he has a reason completely unrelated to his current position that's keeping him from taking on the clues. Read on to find out more.
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Hosts aren't supposed to play the game.
In 2022, CinemaBlend reported that on an episode of the Jeopardy! podcast Inside Jeopardy!, host Sarah Foss explained the rule that anyone who has hosted the show cannot compete because they've "seen behind the curtain," which could give them an unfair advantage.
But, executive producer Michael Davies said that Jennings might be an exception to the rule. "I'm telling you, it's like if Ken is the Greatest Of All Time—kind of like Arnold Palmer who tees off at The Masters," Davies said. "If Ken came to me desperately and said, 'This is it. I still want to play Jeopardy!' I cannot believe that I would completely close the door on Ken playing any form of Jeopardy! at any point in the future."
Jennings has another reason why he won't play.
According to Jennings, it's not the rule about hosts playing that's stopping him from competing. He just doesn't want to face former champion James Holzhauer again.
"Let me be very clear and on the record here: It's because I'm terrified of playing James because I think he would win," Jennings told Deseret News in a recent interview.
Holzhauer has won the fourth most games in a row of any contestant with 32, has won the second most money—behind Jennings—in regular season games, and won the most money in a single game in 2019. Holzhauer still competes in competitions, including Jeopardy! Masters, which he won in May.
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Jennings beat Holzhauer before.
In his Deseret News interview, Jennings implied that he got lucky beating Holzhauer when they played against each other in the Jeopardy! Greatest of All Time tournament in 2020. The third competitor was Brad Rutter, who holds the record for all-time money won on the show, including in special tournaments.
"I'm very happy to be retired from Jeopardy! because I think I got away with one in the GOAT tournament," Jennings said. "And I think there's a very good chance that [Holzhauer] would just wipe the floor with me if we had to play again. So I feel very lucky to be retired—ain't gonna be no rematch."
Jennings posted a similar sentiment on social media when Jeopardy! Masters was announced earlier this year. "Look at this Jeopardy! Masters lineup," he tweeted. "I'm glad I'm hosting and not playing."
Holzhauer teased Jennings about a rematch.
During Jeopardy! Masters, Holzhauer challenged Jennings to rematch during a Final Jeopardy! round. Because he was so far in the lead anyway, instead of writing down a real response to the clue, Holzhauer took the opportunity to write, "Stop ducking a rematch, Ken."
Jennings laughed and responded, "Do you know how much work I had to go to to get all the way over here at this lectern and avoid having to play you again, James?" He jokingly added, "I'm afraid I cannot give you credit, but your heart's in the right place. See, it's not in the form of a question."
Jennings called hosting Jeopardy! his "dream job."
Jennings told Deseret News how surprised he was to be named the new host of Jeopardy!.
"I was 100 percent confident I would not get a shot at the job—because that would be insane," the 49-year-old said. "If I were hiring for that job, I would go with a sturdy broadcaster with decades of experience, not just somebody who happened to be good at the show many years ago. But luckily they took a chance on me."
Hosting the show is his dream come true, Jennings explained. "Now that I'm driving the truck, I really take that responsibility very seriously, like the way I saw Alex do it," he said. "I've gradually gotten a little less terrified—just like playing the game, I guess. I do have my dream job, and I kind of have to pinch myself every day I do not take it for granted."