The cult of Ken Jennings  JUL 15 2004

Various news articles have stated that Ken Jennings, the Jeopardy contestant who has won 31 straight games and $1 million, is back in Utah after taping the currently airing episodes months ago, implying that he lost at some point (neither Jennings nor Jeopardy employees can reveal any details about future Jeopardy episodes).

But what if the show is just on a summer break from taping? Perhaps Jennings is still the reigning champion and will remain champion for years to come. The nerdy Mormon's appearance on television will become a part of normal life in America. Lincoln's on the $5 bill. Sun rises in the east, sets in the west. Michael Bay's movies suck. Ken Jennings is the Jeopardy champ. There are now three constants in life: death, taxes, and Ken Jennings.

In short order, the ratings of the now-live show go through the roof, singlehandedly propping up the dying network television networks. To placate the increasingly vocal anti-Jennings contingent of viewers, the producers start throwing all sorts of special contestants at him. Harvard professors, Disney Imagineers, Rhodes Scholars, a 10 yo genius from South Korea, Danny Hillis, David Foster Wallace, Edward Witten, and even Ben Stein. Jennings defeats them easily, deciding the games well before Final Jeopardy, much to the glee of Jennings' burgeoning fan club.

Jennings, now making hundreds of millions of dollars in endorsements (he's under exclusive contract to Nike, promoting their sportswear geared toward the "intellectual athlete") protests when -- starting in early 2009 -- contestants are allowed to use Google's new S4 (Synaptic Semantic Search System) interface during the show to research answers, but still defeats all challengers. In 2012, the first contestants sporting genetically enhanced "buzzer thumbs" appear on the program. In 2013, the first computer systems to pass the Turing test are allowed as contestants. Jennings handles them all, au naturel.

Inevitably, a Jennings-based religion springs up. A young Mormon living a few blocks from the studio where Jeopardy tapes, reveals he has recently discovered a previously unknown book of the Old Testament. The lost book, coincidentally entitled "Trebek", tells of a living God from "the land of salt, jazz, and many wifes Who shall smite His enemies with a magical rod and infinite wisdom for the amusement of His followers" and promises salvation and everlasting life for whosoever believeth in him. After the new religion's leader appears on Oprah, the Church of Jennings becomes the fastest growing religion in the world.

And then, on January 17, 2026, Jennings loses to a young woman from Ohio (they later marry) by $1 on a Final Jeopardy question about the short-lived talk show Cooking with JK Rowling & Jay-Z. Many die. Upon seeing Jennings' wager come up short, Alex Trebek suffers a massive pulmonary embolism on set. His last words were, "Alex Jennings...I like the sound of that". The elderly, always susceptible to harsh conditions, are hit hardest; Jeopardy becomes the third leading cause of death that year for the 80-100 demographic. Network TV almost collapses (saved only by Survivor: Mare Tranquilitatis), and Jeopardy ratings fall well below pre-Jennings numbers. Jennings retires to Utah, now wholly owned by the Church of Jennings, Inc. And very gradually, people adjust to a world without Ken Jennings as reigning Jeopardy champion.

Update: If you're looking for information about when Ken Jennings loses, try here, here, and here.

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