‘Jeopardy’ host and champ Ken Jennings reveals the ‘secret sauce’ to winning

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‘Often the margin of victory is just reflexes.’


— Ken Jennings

That’s “Jeopardy” champion–turned–host Ken Jennings, revealing the secret to winning the popular game show. Jennings was referring to a contestant’s ability to buzz in to provide a response at just the right moment — in short, you can be a smart competitor but still lose if your timing is off.

Jennings made the remarks in a recent interview with CNN’s Chris Wallace. The full interview is set to air on “Who’s Talking to Chris Wallace?” on Max
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Jennings certainly knows his “Jeopardy,” having run off a string of 74 consecutive victories in 2004. Between that streak and subsequent appearances on the program, his total winnings from the show came to $4.5 million.

Jennings now shares hosting duties on the program with actress Mayim Bialik, with the duo having been selected last summer to take over for the late, legendary Alex Trebek.

Jennings explained that being smart is, naturally, a key to success, but there are lots of contestants who meet hat criterion. “Everybody there can pass the same difficult test to be there,” he said.

So, the key becomes mastering the buzzer. If you press it too early, you’ll be locked out and won’t be allowed to answer. But if you press it too late, you’ll be a beat behind your fellow contestants. You have to wait till the precise moment when the host finishes reading the question to buzz your way to victory.

“It’s tricky,” Jennings said. “So there is a very narrow window you’re trying to find.”

Jennings said his “secret sauce” was to get a handle on the rhythms of the host’s voice — in his case, that meant knowing how Trebek phrased his lines so he could time when to buzz in with his worded-as-a-question responses.

But Jennings said it wasn’t that hard for him. “I had been watching Alex since I was 10 years old,” he said.

“Jeopardy” is in its 40th season and remains as popular as ever. Jennings has been the show’s only host this season, with Bialik off duty due to the entertainment-industry strikes.

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