‘Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time’ goes all in on comedy, but Ken Jennings has the last laugh

"Jeopardy!" contestants, from left, James Holzhauer with 27,200 points; Ken Jennings with 25,600; Brad Rutter with 17,600.
“Jeopardy!” contestants James Holzhauer, left, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter
(Eric McCandless / ABC)

The three decorated champions gathered for “Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time” must possess encyclopedic knowledge along with the nerves of a poker player and a gunslinger’s buzzer-finger. But who would’ve guessed after the third meeting of these game show masters that, of all things, “Jeopardy!” has also got jokes?

Sure, the big story is that Ken Jennings is now just one win from being crowned the “Jeopardy!” GOAT after Thursday night, which saw the former champion effectively seal his victory with a daring, all-in bet in Final Jeopardy in the first round. But what sent social media buzzing were the flashes of humor, including references to a recent generation-baiting meme, a Bernie Sanders tagline and, in an affront to those in the thrall of awards season, a helpless response from the former champions when confronted with Oscar trivia.

Below, a rundown of some of the key moments — or, as host Alex Trebek said at the close of the episode, “I’d like to welcome you to the ‘Jeopardy!’ comedy hour.”

No Oscar winners here


Sorry, Alfonso Cuaron and Ang Lee: None of the three brilliant “Jeopardy!” champions could name you as the two foreign-born winners of the Academy Award for directing to not also win best picture. But at least they had a laugh doing so. Though Holzhauer was unlikely to catch Jennings barring an exceptionally foolish bet on his part (more on that later), James offered a half-serious compliment to Trebek as he drew a blank.

“Who is the GHOST?” he wrote, followed by an explanation of the ‘greatest host of syndicated TV,’ whom he added was Alex Trebek. Although, lest this seem too pandering, Holzhauer included a scrawl where he started to write ‘Pat Sajak,’ who is the host of “Wheel of Fortune.” The normally high-rolling Holzhauer was clearly out of his comfort zone on the category anyway, having wagered only 908 points. “I wish you had risked more points,” Trebek playfully grumbled.

Rutter managed little more than deference to the night’s champ with his scrawled response of “Ken es el hombre,” and even Jennings could only get Lee correct. Sensing the mood, Jennings led into revealing his response by saying, “I’m going to do a tight five minutes on airline food.” Still, there was little drama as he risked only $1,200 on a category that revealed a unifying gap among the “Jeopardy!” champions, which may provide a measure of justification for those who don’t pay attention to the Oscars. Still, at least one big Hollywood name took no offense.

The all-in bet giveth, and it taketh away

As so often is the case, Thursday hinged upon nerve. Going all in on a Daily Double is something of the Vegas-based Holzhauer’s signature move, but Jennings pulled away in the early game with another big bet, this time on a political crisis involving South Carolina in the 1830s. “I don’t want to do that again,” Jennings said, and yet a short time later, he did exactly that. In Final Jeopardy, he doubled his winnings in with an answer on U.S. Political History, earning a high-five from Holzhauer.

Holzhauer would’ve needed some of that same magic to catch him, and seemed well on his way as he ran the board to a 5,000-point lead before a missed Daily Double answer on a garnet knocked him back to level with everyone at zero. In the next game, Brad Rutter found each Daily Double and effectively ended any drama. “You’re welcome,” Rutter joked to Jennings.

You want more laughs? ‘Jeopardy!’ has laughs

Never shy about dipping into more contemporary trivia, “Jeopardy!” showed it knows memes as well with a reference to “OK, Boomer,” the generation-dividing tagline that swept through social media earlier this year after the creation of a sweatshirt and a subsequent barrage of media hand-wringing.

In answering the clue, the quick-witted Jennings recognized a moment. “I get to say it to Alex!” he enthused before answering, “What is ‘OK, Boomer?’ ” “Thank you,” the 79-year-old Trebek, whose age places him in the Silent Generation, replied dryly.

Elsewhere, Twitter also lit up in response to the neighboring position of a few categories in one of the games, which were titled “I Wrote” and “The Dam Bill,” a reference to a Bernie Sanders debate sound bite from last summer. What other surprises will “Jeopardy! GOAT” reveal when the champions reconvene Tuesday? Unless Holzhauer and Rutter rally, Jennings will be laughing all the way to his million-dollar prize.

The comedy kept coming after the episode aired on the East Coast as Holzhauer took to Twitter, but Jennings had the last laugh.