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On Tuesday, the quiz show “Jeopardy!” completed a four-night tournament titled “The Greatest of All Time.” The competition involved three of the show’s winningest competitors from its nearly four-decade run on television. The first to win three nights was the winner.
The tournament, which aired in primetime on ABC, drew far more viewers than just the regular fans of the daytime, syndicated game show. The three initial episodes bested almost all other American broadcasts in the young year and resulted in more viewers than most 2019 sports events in the United States.
Who were the competitors?
The Greatest of All Time tournament featured the three biggest winners from the near-36-year history of “Jeopardy!”: James Holzhauer, Ken Jennings, and Brad Rutter. The three competitors had each distinguished themselves either through their long runs as winners, by their total prize winnings or both.
Holzhauer was the most recent of the tournament contestants to appear on the regular run of “Jeopardy!” shows, with a 32-game winning streak from April to June 2019. On April 9, the professional gambler set the single-day winnings record on the game show, with a total of $110,914 earned, according to The Las Vegas Review-Journal. The previous record had been $77,000, achieved by Roger Craig in 2010.
In addition to his impressive winning streak, Holzhauer distinguished himself with a strategic game play that helped him optimize his winnings. He focused on earning big sums early by answering the higher-value questions first and then doubling his take with the “Daily Double” questions. This strategy has been adopted by the other big winners too, Inc. reported.
Jennings, originally a computer programmer and now a published author following his “Jeopardy!” appearances, was on the show in 2004. He set the record for most games won in a row at 74 (he still holds the record). His run lasted from June 2 to November 30, when he lost to Nancy Zerg in his 75th game on the show, according to show archives. In the course of his 74-game winning streak, Jennings won more than $2.5 million.
In 2003, prior to the season in which Jennings began his streak, ”Jeopardy!” changed a rule that had previously only allowed competitors to win five games in a row. He is currently the record holder for earning the most money on “Jeopardy!”
Rutter appeared on “Jeopardy!” in 2000, when the five-game rule was still in effect. Though his original win total didn’t set any records, his subsequent appearances on a run of special tournaments resulted in him, at one time, being the highest cumulative dollar winner in “Jeopardy!” history.
His other notable claim to trivia fame is tying the IBM supercomputer, Watson, in the first round of a two-day tournament that also included Jennings. Ultimately, Rutter and Jennings both lost to Watson, but until then, Rutter had never lost a game of “Jeopardy!” That included beating Jennings in the “Tournament of Champions” back in 2005, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.
And the winner is…
On Tuesday night, The Greatest of All Time tournament came to a conclusion with Jennings winning his third of four nights, The New York Times reported. Holzhauer won one night and Rutter ended the tournament with no victories. As the tournament winner, Jennings earned $1 million, while Holzhauer and Rutter each earned $250,000.
The format of the tournament involved an hour-long episode each night, as opposed to the half-hour episodes that air in the syndicated version. Also, instead of playing directly for money, the competitors earned points, with the winner taking the predetermined prize money. The tournament was set to air up to seven episodes until one contestant reached three wins.
‘Jeopardy!’ sets primetime records
The contestants weren’t the only ones breaking records on “Jeopardy!” The primetime airings of the tournament have been a ratings behemoth, with the first three days averaging 15 million viewers.
The tournament steadily grew its audience each of its first three nights, making them the most-watched televised event of 2020, behind only the Golden Globes’ 18.32 million viewers. (The ratings for Tuesday’s finale have not yet been released.)
In fact, the tournament has been so popular, it drew more US viewers than almost every major sporting event of 2019. That includes besting the average viewership of the NBA Finals, the MLB World Series, and the NHL Stanley Cup. The NFL Super Bowl, with nearly 100 million viewers, is the exception.During Holzhauer’s run in 2019, “Jeopardy!” reached its highest ratings in syndication in 14 years with 13.3 million viewers.