'Jeopardy!' GOAT Tournament: Ken Jennings Almost Didn't Return for All-Star Showdown

Ken Jennings revealed that he nearly skipped the Jeopardy! Greatest of All Time tournament, and he may never play the game show again. The long-time Jeopardy! champion was officially crowned the best player ever last week, and he gave a follow-up interview with Variety. In it, he explained that he almost declined the tournament altogether.

Jennings was already one of the Jeopardy!'s undisputed greats before the tournament began earlier this month. He had dominated the show for 74 episodes straight in 2004, and had then returned for tournaments and showdowns later on. After last year's break-out performance by James Holzhauer, he expected to be called back shortly.

"This is the part of the story that makes me look like an idiot," he told Variety. "I'd suspected this would be coming down the pipe one of these years. After James made such a splash, I knew people were going to want to see a showdown, but I was not prepared for it so soon… I thought I was a little past my prime and it was maybe time for me to hang up my buzzer."

Jennings explained that he had felt himself "slowing down — mostly [in the way of] recall, no longer automatically quick to remember names and facts like I used to." However, he let the producers of Jeopardy! talk him into returning for this momentous tournament. He also noted that he had lost to Brad Rutter every time they played together previously.

"Always a Brads-maid, never a Brad, that's what I always say," he joked.

Finally, Jennings said that his nerves dissolved as soon as the game itself began. Once he was there, he realized that it would have been wrong to skip this opportunity for both himself and the show.

"I was very stressed going into it and then it all melted away when I got back on that stage," he said. "I think it's true for all three of us. We have such good memories there, we have so many hours of buzzer time under our belts, that – while keeping a laser-like focus on the game – we can enjoy the thrill of the moment. It's a rare thing. And you want to enjoy every moment of that."

While he ended up with the title of Greatest of All Time at the end of the tournament, Jennings said he may not return to defend it. After a long career on Jeopardy! he sees this as a great way to end his story there.


"I don't see how I can top it," he said. "The win was great. It's a great punctuation mark, and I absolutely mean what I said about not wanting to play past my prime. And at some point Alex is going to retire, I assume, and it just wouldn't feel right to play with a different host. It'd be like cheating on Alex. I think this is a perfect time to go out on top."

Jeopardy! airs on weeknights at 7 p.m. ET.