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Jeopardy! star Ken Jennings became a household name during his record-breaking run on the game show in 2004. Serving as guest host after the death of legendary quiz master Alex Trebek in November 2020, the Jeopardy! GOAT has earned a certain level of celebrity status due to his impressive trivia knowledge.

Despite being an obvious brainiac, Jennings was originally turned down for an appearance on another popular game show.

Ken Jennings visits the Build Series to discuss the television event 'JEOPARDY! The Greatest of All Time'
Ken Jennings of ‘Jeopardy!’ | Gary Gershoff/Getty Images

‘Jeopardy!’ GOAT Ken Jennings couldn’t get on ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’ in the late 90s

Now a trivia force to be reckoned with, Jennings previously admitted that he wasn’t always a shoe-in on the game show circuit. When the ABC hit Who Wants to Be a Millionaire premiered in August 1999, Jennings unsuccessfully tried to land a spot in the hot seat.

“In 1999, I was the guy calling the phone line every day trying to get on,” he told BuzzerBlog in 2014 of the top-rated game show. “I never got a call back.”

Though he wasn’t invited on to Millionaire, Jennings was inspired to throw his hat in the ring for Jeopardy!.

“I loved the show so much,” he said of Millionaire. “That was the show that made me realize, ‘Wait, you can try out for a game show! These are real people! Some of them I know who are going on these shows!’ I would have never tried out for Jeopardy! without that Millionaire experience.”

‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’ host Regis Philbin put in his two cents to Ken Jennings

After his monumental winning streak on Jeopardy!, Jennings would sometimes see the late Millionaire host Regis Philbin and get razzed by the talk show star.

“It’s funny—every time I met Regis thereafter, in an interview or whatever, he would always get on my case,” Jennings remarked, adding in an attempted impression of Philbin. “’Ken, why didn’t you come on Millionaire?! You’re on Jeopardy!, you took 66 shows to win a million dollars. On my show, you could’ve earned that in an hour!’ He always gave me a hard time for not going on Millionaire.”

Jennings got his chance in 2014, when he was recruited for Millionaire’s Guinness World Records Edition-themed week. Though his winnings weren’t nearly in line with his Jeopardy! jackpot of $2,520,700, Jennings still earned $100,000 on the show.

‘Jeopardy!’ star Ken Jennings praised ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’ host Terry Crews

Television personality and former NFL star Terry Crews was hosting Millionaire when Jennings made his appearance. The Jeopardy! champ compared Crews’ game show persona to his character on a popular sitcom.

“I was pretty excited to meet him, you know?” Jennings shared. “I really like him on Brooklyn Nine Nine—what is this guy really like? The answer is: he’s really like he is on Brooklyn Nine Nine, actually. … that sort of very genuine enthusiasm, this excitement for everything going around him, especially in terms of Millionaire, where he’s around people playing the game and winning money.”

Jennings noted how Crews truly rooted for contestants and was encouraging them toward success.


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“He’s very genuinely on their side, and he wants to see them do well more than anyone,” Jennings said of Crews. “I almost think I have not seen a game show host like that before who’s so clearly a stand-in for the audience and the player’s family.”