Kevin Lincoln profiles Ken Jennings, the record-holding contestant who had 74 straight wins in 2004:
“For so long, I was always the guy in the office who you could ask the name of a TV show or guys in a band, but that’s not really valuable in the Google age,” Jennings says. “I’d always been good at that, but I turned my back on it because I didn’t really think I could make a living that way. I thought being a programmer was a safe thing to do, and by accident, I became much more successful doing what I was actually good at.”
How he’s converted that talent into a career:
If Trebek is the show’s Virgil, Jennings is Dante, the one guy who made it out alive. Even if you’re the kind of person who knows that the Tournament of Champions, the show’s annual best-of-the-best showdown, started yesterday, we bet you that you can’t name another Jeopardy contestant. (OK — except for Leonard, the daring and daringly Afroed Teen Tournament champ who became a star Tuesday night.) But you know Ken Jennings — and Jennings, the onetime programmer of health-care software, is taking advantage of your familiarity to this day, publishing nonfiction books, writing a weekly news quiz for Slate, writing a weekly column about obscure world destinations for Condé Nast Traveler, debunking myths for Woot.com, creating a trivia puzzle for Parade magazine, one-offs for sites like ESPN’s Grantland, tweeting a handful of times a day, and doing whatever else he can to keep rolling in his career as a professional smart person.
In 2013, merely knowing a bunch of arcane stuff isn’t enough to impress anyone outside of a pub quiz — that’s what our phones are for. But parlaying both intelligence and effortless charisma into not just celebrity but also a seemingly permanent spot in the pop-culture landscape is a pretty specific hustle. Don’t let the clean-cut Mormon good looks or aw-shucks demeanor fool you: Ken Jennings is on the grind.