October 21st, 2007
In September of 2003, Jeopardy made some changes in its format to celebrate its 20th season on the air. One of these changes was to allow winners to return and play the game again indefinitely, as long as they remained undefeated.
This change came along at the perfect time for Ken Jennings, who made his Jeopardy debut later that season, in June of 2004. He won his first game, and his second ... and even his 74th! Jennings remained the current Jeopardy champion for a mind-blowing 74 rounds before losing his 75th game in the final round.
Since appearing the Alex Tebek-hosted quiz show, Jennings has written a book titled Brainiac, which has very recently been released in paperback. He's been featured on countless talk shows, co-invented a couple of trivia games, and had endorsement deals with Fed-Ex and H&R Block, the two companies that were mentioned during his final Jeopardy question that ended his run in the game.
Jennings is certainly a busy guy, but he was kind enough to spend some time and answer a few questions for us, so we can catch up with what he's doing now and find out how exactly the public reacted to his long winning streak on Jeopardy.
Hi Ken! Thanks for taking the time to speak with me! Your book, Brainiac, is being released in paperback on October 30th. Are there any changes or additions to the book itself?
Ken Jennings: I always feel a little ripped off when a book that I already own in hardcover adds cool new material for the paperback edition, so I resisted that temptation. A few typos and other embarrassing errors are corrected: the Civil War now lasts four and not five years long, and Edward VI, not Edward IV, is Henry VIII's son. Except for that, it's the exact same book, for half the price. What a deal. But I did toy with idea of adding one more chapter: on international trivia contests. The book is fairly North America-centric, but I'm learning that there's a thriving quiz scene overseas as well, from the UK to Belgium to Sri Lanka to Australia. In fact, I'm flying to Blackpool, England this fall for the 2007 European Quiz Championships, which should be a lot of fun.
Will you be doing a book tour? If so, where can fans find a schedule?
Jennings: In January, I'll be doing a short tour for my second book, Ken Jennings's Trivia Almanac, a mammoth hardcover quiz book crammed with over nine thousand questions, and at that time I'll happily sign paperback Brainiacs or anything else you shove in front of me. Dates for the tour aren't finalized but will appear soon at my website, www.Ken-Jennings.com. Don't forget the hyphen in the URL, and follow the link to "Appearances."
Obviously your success on Jeopardy must have been life-changing in many ways. Now that you've had a few years to settle in and get used to being in the public eye, what has been the biggest change you've had to get used to?
Jennings: Jerry Seinfeld once marveled about all the smart people in the world who apparently don't realize that televisions only work one way. I run into that all the time--people who fully expect me to know them because they were such faithful fans of Jeopardy! back in 2004 when I was on. But believe me, you want to keep those Jeopardy! fans on your good side. Last year when the New York Post erroneously reported that I was slagging Alex Trebek on my blog, I had an inbox full of hate mail in no time. You don't annoy the Trebekkies!
I guess that leads me to the biggest change I've had to get used to: when your name becomes briefly famous, people--maybe millions of people--are going to have an opinion about you. And it's probably not going to be very well-informed, and it might be pretty negative, and there's really nothing you can do about it. I didn't ask to be famous, and it's frustrating sometimes to be misunderstood, but you just have to let it go. Some people are going to think I'm a hero to millions, and some people are going to think I'm an insufferable jerk, and they're both wrong--when you get right down to it, I was just a guy on a game show.