Henry VIII, Louis IV and Alexander the Great, smart guys all, had long and historic reigns, but it had to end sometime, and so it must be with America’s King of Trivia, Ken Jennings.

Since June, the clean-cut software engineer from Salt Lake City has bulldozed through 73 episodes of “Jeopardy!,” raking in more than $2.4 million in winnings and dazzling the nation with his command of arcane knowledge.

But this week, perhaps as early as tonight, TV’s quiz whiz will meet his match, say insiders in the game show universe.

“Jeopardy!” outcomes are TV’s equivalent of state secrets. Contestants sign a contract to keep mum on the details until the show airs, and studio audiences are expected to join the conspiracy of silence.

But avid fans who form a sort of “Jeopardy!” underground believe that Jennings’ 75th appearance, taped in September at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, Calif., and expected to air today, is his last.

For Jennings, authority on all things zodiacal, chronological and biblical, there are signs the end is near.

People who have attended recent tapings say Jennings is no longer on the show.

And in Washington, D.C., a group of “Jeopardy!” contestants who lost to Jennings plan to gather for a viewing party this week. Invitations are for Tuesday.

Producers for the syndicated show say they haven’t publicly revealed an outcome before airtime in the last 21 seasons and aren’t starting now. Even stations that carry the show are in the dark.

But while still a big draw, Jennings’ ratings have drifted off from the summer when he was approaching the $1 million total in overall winnings and setting other game show records.

It may be a sign that some viewers miss the more competitive days and are growing tired of Jennings’ streak. “It now looks to many people that it may never end,” said Powell.

In the months of the streak, Jennings’ opponents – dubbed “Kennon fodder” in some circles – had to balance the thrill of getting their onetime shot on “Jeopardy!” against the disappointment of having to face quizdom’s heavyweight champ.

“It was like, “Hey! I did really good and I’m never going to be on again,” said Dr. Jeff Suchard of Placentia, Calif., who was within a competitive $4,900 of Jennings going into Final Jeopardy on the Oct. 4 episode.

Suchard lost (the category was “Poets”), and under the show’s current rules, cannot try out again. But he’s hoping “Jeopardy!” might develop special episodes for those who scored well against Jennings.

“We’re all hoping they’ll have a “Ken Jennings Road Kill’ tournament,” said Suchard, an emergency room physician.

Suchard said Jennings is as unassuming in person as the image he projects on the screen.

“It would be wonderful if he was a jerk and everyone could hate him, but he’s nice and he’s gracious,” Suchard said. “He’s just on another level of play.”



OTHER BIG MONEYMAKERS

Other million-dollar winners and their first appearance date on TV game shows are:

$2,180,000: Kevin Olmstead, “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” ABC, April 2001.

$1,860,000: Ed Toutant, “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” ABC, Sept. 2001.

$1,765,000: Lt. David Legler, “Twenty-One,” NBC, Feb. 2000.

$1,410,000: Curtis Warren, “Greed,” Fox, Nov. 1999.

$1,125,000: John Carpenter, “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” ABC, Nov. 1999.

$1,120,000: Rahim Oberholtzer, “Twenty-One,” NBC, Feb. 2000.

$1,042,309.16: Tim Hsieh, “It’s Your Chance of a Lifetime,” Fox, June 2000.

$1,000,500: Joe Trela, “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” ABC, March 2000; Dan Blonsky, “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” Jan. 2000.

$1,000,000: Robert “Bob-O” Essig, “Super Millionaire,” ABC, Feb. 2004; Richard Bay, “Pepsi Play for a Billion,” WB, Sept. 2003; Bernie Cullen, “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” ABC, April 2001; David Goodman, “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” July 2000; Kim Hunt, “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” July 2000; Bob House, “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” June 2000.

(Source: TVGameshows.net)





CAN YOU BEAT HIM?

Test your wits on these clues that Ken Jennings has faced. And remember, your answer must be in the form of a question.

1. U.S. presidents: With a book about the South, he became the first president, past or present, to publish a novel.

2. Entertainment: This title character, who debuted in 1999, was created by former marine biology educator Steve Hillenburg.

3. Writers: Born in 1564, he was employed by Elizabeth I’s secretary of state to uncover Catholic plots against her reign.

4. Fruit: This fruit of North America shares its name with a literary character who debuted in an 1876 novel.

5. Opera: The libretto for “William Tell” was in this language, the native tongue of neither the composer, Rossini, nor the subject.

6. International politics: Of the eight members of the G-8 industrial nations, the one with the smallest population.

7. Classic literature: “Did I request thee, maker, from my clay to mould me man ” is the epigraph to this 1818 novel.

8. Historic names: In 1899, he was released from Devil’s Island and pardoned for “treason under extenuating circumstances.”

9. Fictional people: After a 58-year flirtation, this woman called it off temporarily in issue No. 720.

10. 19th century U.S. history: Of the five times Congress has declared war, the three during the 19th century were against these three nations.

And the questions are:

1. Who is Jimmy Carter?

2. Who is Spongebob Squarepants?

3. Who is Christopher Marlowe?

4. What is the Huckleberry?

5. What is French?

6. What is Canada?

7. What is “Frankenstein”?

8. Who is Capt. Alfred Dreyfus?

9. Who is Lois Lane?

10. What are Britain, Mexico and Spain?

If you got all 10 right, you beat Ken Jennings, who got one wrong – he fumbled No. 10 on Friday, when he correctly answered it, then crossed out Britain and wrote in “Confederate States of America.”

(Source: Sony Pictures Television)

(EDITORS: STORY CAN END HERE)



THE JENNINGS JUGGERNAUT

JUNE 2: He wins $37,201 on his first appearance.

JULY 13: Crests the $1 million mark in total winnings.

JULY 23: Beats his single-day record by winning $75,000.

SEPT. 15: Breaks longest winning streak on a game show.

OCT. 25: Crests the $2 million mark in total winnings.

NOV 3: Becomes all-time biggest game show winner with cumulative total of $2,197,000.

TUESDAY: Plays his 75th game.



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