The Jeopardy! Greatest of All Time Tournament
By Noah Stern:
On Tuesday, January 14th, Ken Jennings beat out James Holzhauer and Brad Rutter to become the greatest Jeopardy! player of all time.
Wow, did I love the Jeopardy Greatest of All Time Tournament. In all probability, it will go down as the greatest tournament of the 21st century. I really can’t think of anything that ever has or will come close in terms of spectacle and grandeur. Now, I realize Jeopardy! isn’t for everyone. Some find it very pretentious, and I'll admit I’m really just helping their case when I include that unnecessary exclamation mark in the show’s name. However, I hope this article will show everyone why the Jeopardy GOAT tournament was such a great moment in history and, as Twitter user @KFCBarstool so aptly put it, “The Dunk Contest for white people.”
I think it’s best to stick with the basketball analogies in order to introduce the competitors in the tournament. Reading from left to right we have James Holzhauer, Ken Jennings, and Brad Rutter.
Eric McCandless | ABC
James is the Steph Curry of Jeopardy!. A relatively young star whose fast-paced and unorthodox style of gameplay revolutionized the way the game is played. James is a big-money gambler from Las Vegas and he uses that mindset to psychologically destroy his mortal opponents. Just like Steph Curry started hitting an unprecedented level of threes per game, James was routinely raking in $70,000+ per episode. And just as Curry made the NBA value the 3-point shot like never before, James has changed the very landscape of his game. If you tune into ABC at 7:00 p.m. on a weekday you will now see James imitators galore, all sweeping the bottom of the board and hunting for daily doubles. The only problem is that these people make complete fools out of themselves because they don’t have the insanely broad knowledge base that James has. Essentially, James has made a bunch of 38-year-old sweater-vest wearing librarians and English professors walk onto the Jeopardy set like it's the world series of poker. Take this quote from Ken Jennings on Twitter to understand the level of respect James has earned from the Jeopardy! world:
“James Holzhauer is a player so dominant that, when he took on the strongest players ever in his sport, they both had to adopt his exact style of play just to contain him. THAT’s a once-in-a-generation talent.”
I would like to preface the next two player profiles by saying that I never actually watched Ken or Brad play in their respective heydays as I was only born in 2003; I had more important things to do such as learning how to read or grasping the concept of object permanence.
Which brings us to Ken, the Michael Jordan of Jeopardy!. After the tournament, there is no doubt that Ken, like Jordan, is the greatest player of all time. Unfortunately, Ken went on his famed Jeopardy! run when I was only one (1) year old, and I was negative five (-5) years old when Jordan won his last ring. Starting on June 2nd, 2004, Ken began a 74 game win streak. I mean Jesus Christ, they threw 148 of the world’s biggest trivia losers and fact nerds at the guy and he just kept winning. Just as Jordan was an unstoppable force in his time, rolling over the likes of Bird, Magic, Barkley, and Olajuwon, Ken was an absolute buzzsaw of a competitor when he played. Many argue that Jordan would be even better had he played today, and, luckily, given that a Jeopardy! player’s prime lasts a lot longer than an NBA player’s, the GOAT tournament gave us a chance to see if Ken is still the undisputed champ. I would liken Ken’s second coming to Jordan’s, but I have to believe that Ken wasn’t out playing minor league baseball because of his gambling issues. If we’re talking about second acts, maybe Jesus Christ would be a more apt comparison.
For me, Brad Rutter’s closest comparison is...Junior Bridgeman. I know, I know, but hear me out. Many would find a player like Junior Bridgeman fairly unremarkable. A career sixth man in the 70’s, he averaged 13.6 points over his 12 years in the league, and it is not very controversial to say that he doesn’t rank amongst the best NBA players of all time. So, it may
surprise you to find out that Junior Bridgeman’s net worth is 600 million dollars(!). Just like Brad, Bridgeman didn’t do the real damage during his playing career. When he left the league, Bridgeman used his player salary to slowly acquire over 100 Wendy’s and Chili’s franchises. That’s right, while Michael Jordan was busy cranking out his shoe line, Junior Bridgeman was whipping up baby back ribs, Frostys® , and Baconators® . Brad Rutter only ever went on a 5-game winning streak, because there used to be a Jeopardy! rule that kicked champions off after 5 wins. However, in a similarly shocking turn of events as the Junior Bridgeman thing, I found out that Brad is the highest-earning game show contestant of all time. Not just the most money earned of any Jeopardy! contestant, but the most of any contestant in the storied history of North American televised gamery. So, you may ask, how the hell did Brad make so much money? One simple reason: Brad is reaaaaaally good at Jeopardy! tournaments. Like, Brad went on the Tournament of Champions against Ken shortly after his 74-game winning streak and just straight-up thrashed him on national television. It was supposed to be a metaphorical victory lap for Ken, but Brad came through and metaphorically tripped him and then spat on him and then ran through the metaphorical finish line himself.
Even if you didn’t watch the tournament, you can probably figure out how everyone did by answering this question: If Michael Jordan, Steph Curry, and Junior Bridgeman were all in their prime and they walked into an open gym together, how would that game go?
That is correct. Brad played horribly. Brad’s buzzer reaction ability was reminiscent of the sloth working at the DMV in Zootopia. Brad’s time would have been better spent taking down Alex Trebek’s coffee order in between commercials than actively participating. Brad was the Ross Perot of the Jeopardy! GOAT tournament. You get the point.
That brings me to one of the main reasons I loved the tournament so much: the Twitter beef. For 51 weeks out of the year, Jeopardy! Twitter was arguably one of the worst sections of the app, narrowly edging out cricket Twitter and opera Twitter, but squarely behind water polo Twitter. However, in another counterculture renegade move, James started absolutely lighting Ken and Brad up before the tournament even started. Some of his best tweets include:
Stating that Ken and @realDonaldTrump have won the same number of Jeopardy! tournaments.
An elite humble brag on January 1st after winning over $2 million in 2019, “Glad I can finally turn the page on 2019 and look forward to a more prosperous 2020.”
A poll titled “Who’s your #JeopardyGOAT?” The options being James Holzhauer, Ken Jennings, or “That other guy.”
A stock image of two baby goats (kids if you will) “that outscored @bradrutter” after Brad scored -1,000 points in a round.
“My wife is going to make me roleplay as Ken Jennings tonight”
A picture of the competitors at their podiums but Brad’s score is replaced by a certificate of participation.
James was slaying the other two badly enough to convince mild-mannered Ken Jennings to lay down the law on this murder attempt of a tweet:
“BREAKING: I have decided to follow James on Twitter, since he’s been following me on Jeopardy all week.”
Surprisingly, the most captivating tweet may actually belong to Brad Rutter, when he tweeted out this picture with the caption “Ken and James declined my offer to rip a huge bong load.”
As you can see, the Jeopardy! GOAT tournament was a genuinely interesting and surprisingly well-received event that, in all likelihood, marked the highest ever point of Jeopardy!’s success. I mean, quite honestly, do you think there will ever be another multi-day, primetime event centered on a pretentious trivia gameshow for the people who aren’t dumb enough to watch Wheel of Fortune? I think not.