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Ken Jennings: Greatest 'Jeopardy!' champ tells all

8:02 AM, Nov 20, 2013   |    comments
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USA TODAY - Alex Trebek's voice is anything but soothing for 74-time Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings.

"I can't watch it the way I used to. I hear the music or I hear Alex's voice and I get very tense like I'm right back there on the set," he says. "I feel the adrenaline spike. So I've got post traumatic game show disorder."

It's been nearly 10 years since Jennings' life changed when he set the record for most game show wins and walked away with more than $2.5 million. So what was the first thing he did with his winnings? "We were actually sort of poor at the time. We had a very old, very crappy TV, and I went out and bought a big widescreen TV so I could see every pore of Alex Trebek, which is my dream," said Jennings.

When Jennings, 39, returned from his epic run on Jeopardy! he didn't quit his job as a computer programmer until he got his first book deal. "I didn't wanna be one of these lottery winners that goes in and tells the boss, 'Screw you, I'm outta here,' and then two days later after sitting at home they're like 'Can I have my job back?'" Writing Braniac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs took up more of Jennings' time than he anticipated. He took a leave of absence to write his first book but never returned.

Jennings recently finished writing his second book, Because I Said So: The Truth Behind the Myths, Tales, and Warnings Every Generation Passes Down to Its Kids. Jennings says his writing schedule allows him to "do the carpool or piano lessons if needed," (his kids are 11 and 7) and he has even stepped in as a Jeopardy! host at school functions.

Jennings' son is already a Jeopardy fan. "My son is addicted to Jeopardy! and wants to watch it every night. I think he wants to beat my Jeopardy! record one day," Jennings says. When asked if he wanted to appear on Jeopardy! Kids Week, Jennings' son said "I'm thinking about it but I'd like to keep my eligibility when I am a grown up. I don't want to go too early."

When the time comes, Jennings can certainly offer some tips. He says there are two things that contestants do wrong all the time: Wager incorrectly, and freak out about the buzzer.

Jennings says the typical Jeopardy! contestants don't have Rainman-like memories. In fact, Jennings struggled with two topics during his winning streak. "That summer I was on Jeopardy! they seemed to have a lot of categories about hockey and country music, I kept screwing up hockey and country music," said Jennings. "Anything with a mullet ... and I was done."

And then there was the ultimate question that did him in: "Most of this firm's 70,000 seasonal white-collar employees work only four months a year." Jennings answered FedEx, but the correct answer was H&R Block. "As it turned out, if you're gonna lose on Jeopardy!, lose on the corporate question, because I got sponsorship offers from H&R Block and FedEx," he explains. H&R Block offered Jennings free tax preparation and financial planning services for life. At the time he didn't take them up on their offer, but after he moved to Seattle and was looking for a new accountant he thought, "Hey! I know! What is H&R Block?!"

(Copyright © 2013 USA TODAY)

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