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The King is Dead... Long Live Brad!
Chris Wolvie

Well, after clogging the airwaves for close to four months, the field had been whittled down to a mere threesome of the smartest game show contestants alive. And, after three days of answers and questions, we finally learn the horrid truth:

Ken Jennings is NOT all that!

This mild-mannered software engineer from Salt Lake City came into Sony Studios in L.A. hoping to have a decent showing on Jeopardy! and not to look TOO foolish. Little did he know that he would slaughter opponent after opponent after opponent, two at a time, in a run that would span two seasons, last 75 shows and would end, oddly enough, on a blown question about a tax-help company. Two and a half million bucks later, Ken had eclipsed Dr. Kevin Olmstead as the highest money-winner ever and was deemed king of all game shows.

But Sony, who were glad as all hell they lifted that silly "five-win limit" rule, wondered if Mr. Jennings really WAS the best at the game.  Because of that (and, possibly, from the steady decline in people signing up for the show until Ken was finally defeated), they decided to round up as many tournament champs, five-time-plus champs and high-money winners as possible in what they deemed an "ULTIMATE Tournament of Champions". 145 started, with nine getting byes into the second round and Ken, appropriately (or so they say), getting a bye all the way to the finals.

Those of use who have seen the tournament saw what happened those finalthree days. Ken - who had been too busy with commercials for
Allstate, Microsoft and Cingular and appearances on every conceivable show from "The Tonight Show" to "Sesame Street" - seemed WAY out of practice. He was in third after the first day, was a LONG second after the next day and, as the first-person shooter fanboys like to say, got "pwned" by Brad Rutter on the final day. Rutter now leads Jennings by over a quarter-million thanks to the two-million-buck payoff for leading pole-to-pole.

What happened to the Ken Jennings who led his foes by at least a five-to-one-to-one margin by the first commercial break? Where was the man who won an average of over $34,000 a game? Where was the man who nerds wanted to emulate and women wanted to marry and then kill off?

Many people believed that giving Ken a bye all the way to the finals was a bad move. If he really WAS as good as other champions, they said, he could have started in the second or third rounds and worked his way up just like Rutter did. And it doesn't appear to be a bad theory, hindsight being 20-20. Had Ken started in the earlier rounds, he would have been warmed for the finals and would have been on even ground with Rutter going into the finals. He didn't exactly blow everyone away when he made his debut one year ago tonight; he was only leading by $1400 before pulling away in the Final Jeopardy! Round. It took time for him to really get rolling.

Some say the celebrity status got to him and he began to feel ten feet tall and bulletproof with a signaling buzzer in his hand. That's doubtful, since he looked just as humble in his last appearance as in his first. I'm sure he was glad that he was gifted with fast fingers and vast knowledge, but he DID say he'd give to his church and donate to public radio BEFORE he said he'd take a trip to Europe. He's every bit of a humble celebrity that Richard Hatch could NEVER have been.

No matter what the reason, millions of people saw with their own eyes that Ken was, in fact, mortal. Nancy Zerg may have stabbed him, but it was Rutter that killed the question-making beast. He may have proved that he could outplay Charles Van Doren even if Charles DID get the answers ahead of time, but he has ALSO proved that he is not invincible. He is loved and admired by game show fans the world over, but those same fans clearly have to say to Brad Rutter:

"OH, MY GOD! YOU KILLED KENNY! YOU BASTARD!"

You really expected something serious from Chris Wolvie? Fuhgeddaboudit! E-mail him at chriswolvie@yahoo.com

 

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