Entertainment

Who's the greatest 'Jeopardy!' contestant of all time?

A game show that gives away the answers doesn't sound like a hit in the making. Merv Griffin was on to something, however, as "Jeopardy!" would become appointment viewing for millions of households long after the show premiered in 1964. The current version debuted in 1984, which is when Alex Trebek took over hosting the long-running game show, and though the beloved emcee announced he'd been diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer last year, his duties have continued unabated. That includes the just-concluded "Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time" tournament, which pits the show's three highest-earning contestants — Ken Jennings, Brad Rutter, and James Holzhauer — against each other for the first time in an effort to determine, once and for all, who is the greatest "Jeopardy!" contestant ever.

The first to win three games (not necessarily in a row) was named the greatest of all time. As of this last night, Jennings did just that: he won three, while Holzhauer won one and Rutter never picked up a victory. All three were chosen for good reason, of course; as the tournament — and, though it hurts to say it, perhaps an entire era of "Jeopardy!" itself — comes to a close, here's a look back at the show's most impressive records.

Illustration of game show contestants answering quiz questions
Credit: YummyBuum / Shutterstock

Consecutive games won: Ken Jennings

Jennings won 74 consecutive matches in 2004, setting a record that no one has come close to — Holzhauer is in a distant second with 32. Jennings won $2,522,700 over the course of that run, and his total earnings, including tournaments, is $3,522,700. He also holds the record for most correct responses per game at 33.1.

All-time winnings: Brad Rutter

If you include tournaments, Rutter edges out Jennings in this category by a considerable sum: his $4,688,436 in winnings is enough to make him the highest-earning competitor in the history of game shows. That includes his original five-day streak in 2000 and numerous matches in five subsequent tournaments; until "The Greatest of All Time," in fact, he had never lost to a human opponent. Watson, the IBM computer designed specifically for the show, beat Rutter and Jennings in 2011.

Single-game winnings: James Holzhauer

Holzhauer doesn't just hold the top spot in this category — he holds the top 16. He won $131,127 in a single episode last year, $130,022 in another, $118,816 in yet another, and so on and so forth. He's third in all-time winnings after Rutter and Jennings, with a total of $2,712,216, and second in consecutive matches won with 32.

These accolades — all of which can be found in the "Jeopardy!" Hall of Fame — make it difficult to argue that anyone else should be competing for the title of Greatest of All Time. Regardless of who emerges victorious, all of them have made a legacy for themselves on the show that's only surpassed by that of Trebek.

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