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Ken Jennings is still the smartest person in the world. On the popular gameshow Jeopardy this week, Las Vegas based upstart James Holzhauer lost, only $56,484 away from becoming the winningest contestant ever. The game theory he used to dismantle the norms of the popular trivia game show as surely as Babe Ruth dismantled the singles-slapping record book of the dead ball era in baseball worked against Holzhauer this time. New winner Emma Boettcher won all the Daily Doubles. By luck of the draw, Holzhauer was reduced to just being a guy who had to answer a lot of trivia questions, rather than a guy who used a quirk in the system to increase his winnings exponentially and crush his opponents. In The Atlantic, Jennings gives his own riveting version of watching the experience.
Jennings became the winningest Jeopardy contestant ever in 2004. And, while it took him 74 games to win his cache, Holzhauer did it in only 32. Even if Holzhauer had taken the dollar lead, Jennings would still have an insurmountable lead in total victories. But when you start explaining your greatness, you’re no longer really great. Thankfully, Babe Ruth wasn’t around to point out that his 60 homers in 1927 had come in 154 games, while Roger Maris’ then record-breaking 61 total took 162. Cooperstown simply added an asterisk. Which did the trick until game theory and steroids produced Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa, and Barry Bonds.
While Ken Jennings retains his lofty position as the all-time money and games winner on America’s most revered game show, he has adroitly positioned his brand for the day when he might be knocked off that perch. The panoply of his brand extension is replete with book series (for adults and kids), a weekly Parade magazine feature, a podcast, a popular Twitter, and lots of special appearances. If James Holzhauer had won one more episode, with his customary record-shattering average of $76,944 per show, Jennings would have moved to being second in line in dollar winnings. He would have been the world’s second smartest guy. But thanks to deft leveraging of his brand as “Jeopardy’s Ken Jennings,” he has protected his brand from disaster when the day finally comes.
Actual photo of James Holzhauer walking off stage at Jeopardy, his reign of destruction completed. pic.twitter.com/Xdf5PFR3QD
— Ken Jennings (@KenJennings) June 4, 2019
Watching Ken Jennings’ behavior as he was preparing to be knocked off his perch as The Smartest Person in the World (only in America would a gameshow winner be considered for that moniker) has been a master class in how to protect a brand from inevitable competition and disruption. Jennings long ago branched out into a variety of endeavors that insured his relevance long after his reign had ended. While his lead seemed insurmountable (even Holzhauer was less than halfway to Jenning’s incredible run of 74 consecutive victories), Jennings knows that the media loves to slay giants, and Holzhauer would have inevitably wrested the crown from him just by taking the earnings lead. Jennings adroitly tweeted his reactions and feelings, and gave interviews claiming that he, too, was amazed by Holzhauer’s achievements and knew that this day would eventually come.
But in a result for the ages, just as he prepared for Armageddon, the asteroid changed course, and both of his records remain intact. Now, by virtue of the newfound attention given to the venerable trivia show, Jennings’ brand is stronger than ever. It’s not hard to imagine a slew of media properties featuring both the old champ and the vanquished challenger, reaching out to new generations.
June 5, 2019 at 03:52PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs