The Jeopardy! GOAT tournament—or Jeopardy!: The Greatest of All Time, as the chirpy official title has it—could end tonight. In a race between three masters of the game to win three matches first, Ken Jennings needs just one more over James Holzhauer and Brad Rutter to take the million-dollar prize. If the tournament doesn’t end tonight, it’ll likely end this week. Either way, you’re running perilously short on chances to see it, which you should, because you’ll never have another chance to witness this particular alchemy again—in Jeopardy! or any other contest.
I’ll take HYPERBOLE for $800, you might be thinking. Fair. Every sport has an All-Star game. TV competitions like Survivor bring back favorites every few years. Even Jeopardy! held an All-Stars team tournament recently, its first ever, featuring not only GOAT competitors Jennings and Rutter but 16 fan favorites from the past few decades. The format’s been done.
Except not like this. If you follow Jeopardy! even casually, you’ve heard of Holzhauer and Jennings. After a barnstorming run last year, Holzhauer holds every consequential single-game Jeopardy! record in the books, and reshaped how future generations will play it. Jennings’ 74-game win streak, meanwhile, has proven unapproachable, and he still holds the record for single-season Jeopardy! earnings. Rutter may be less familiar to the uninitiated, but he’s won more money playing Jeopardy! than anyone alive, despite first appearing in the days when the show imposed a five-game cap on winners.
Mount Rushmore makes for an easy comparison here, those three lumped together with Alex Trebek as their adjacent Lincoln. Baseball might be more instructive, though. Between his unbreakable streak and his consistency, think of Jennings as a hybrid of Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams. Holzhauer’s run last year wasn’t unlike Babe Ruth roaring through the 20s with record home run seasons. And Rutter has been every bit as efficient and unbeatable as Greg Maddux in his prime. Respect to all the other Jeopardy! greats—and there are plenty—but these really are the three undisputed best to have played the game.
And now they can play one another, a rare opportunity in the world of elite competition. Think of every debate over which great athlete is truly the greatest of all time: Jordan vs. LeBron, Woods vs. Nicklaus. Because time is cruel and physically degrading, the best athletes of different eras can’t compete directly in a meaningful way. (When asked in 1960 how well he would bat against that generation’s pitchers, .366 lifetime average hitter Ty Cobb suggested .300. “You’ve got to remember,” he said, “I’m 73.”) Comparing statistics of athletes at their prime doesn’t always provide an easy answer, either, whether that’s due to teammates or rule changes or simply disagreements over which statistic means more.
Those fights will remain forever hypothetical. The Jeopardy! GOAT plays it out in real time. Yes, age is still potentially a factor, at least according to Jennings. “It’s kind of a young person’s game,” he told WIRED in an interview during Holzhauer’s run. “I’m 45. At some point, I’m just a generation behind the new crop of players, and they’re going to be a little bit sharper, a little bit faster than me, and there’s nothing I can do about it.”
And yet Jennings leads the GOAT so far, with two wins to Holzhauer’s one. (Rutter has uncharacteristically stumbled out of the gate.) Even if he doesn’t take the title, Jennings clearly hasn’t aged out of contention.
Brian Barrett es el director digital de WIRED, que cubre seguridad, tecnología de consumo y cualquier otra cosa que parezca interesante. Antes de WIRED, fue editor en jefe del sitio de tecnología y cultura Gizmodo y reportero de negocios para Yomiuri Shimbun, el periódico más grande de Japón.