Ken Jennings’ Childhood in South Korea Helped Train Him for His ‘Jeopardy!’ Wins

In a recent interview, Jeopardy! champ and star of Game Show Network’s Master Minds Ken Jennings opened up about his upbringing in South Korea.

Ken Jennings with 'Jeopardy!' host Alex Trebek
Ken Jennings with ‘Jeopardy!’ host Alex Trebek | Jeopardy Productions via Getty Images

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By his own estimation, it was a childhood like any other kid’s, but he recalls it as an unlikely training ground for his future as the greatest Jeopardy! player of all time.

Jennings 74-game ‘Jeopardy!’ run

The father of two spoke with The Outline in 2018 about his historic run on the classic game show and the feedback he still gets from fans who specifically remember who they watched his Jeopardy! streak with. It moves him to know that he played a part in viewers’ special memories.

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“I think there was something about [my run] where [viewers] found [out] about it by accident, or heard about it from their roommate or grandma, and they felt like they discovered this thing, like finding an unknown band or something.”

“To this day I’ll hear from so many people who were little kids then and would watch it with their grandpa every night, or their whole dorm would shut down so they could watch Jeopardy!. It’s really sweet that people have such fond memories.”

Jennings worries about how Siri and Google will affect learning for future generations

With information at the ready via Google and Siri, the Washington-state resident is concerned about children being challenged enough to try to find information and learn it on their own, rather than looking answers up right away. There’s a satisfaction found in digging for, and finding, an answer on one’s own that Googling can’t come close to.

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“It’s really nice to have all the world’s knowledge in a rectangle in my pocket at all times,” he told Interview in Feb. 2020. “I do kind of wonder if, in the long-term, there are some side effects in our culture if people stop thinking, ‘What a fun thing to know! What a fun thing to learn about!’ and instead, they think, ‘Oh, I’ll just ask Siri or I’ll Google it, if it ever comes up.’ “

“So, I’m a little worried about what the stuff is going to do to our commitment to lifelong learning.”

Ken Jennings’ upbringing in South Korea

From ages 7 to 17, Jennings lived in South Korea with his family. His father was an attorney for an international law firm and his mother became a Department of Defense dependent school teacher. The family watched American television on the American Forces Network (AFN).

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“My family moved to South Korea when I was seven and we lived there for over a decade, so I grew up in Seoul, near Yongsan which is the big Army installation there at the time.”

The trivia whiz explained how having very limited access to television prepared him to be a curious person who enjoyed learning – and to compete on Jeopardy!

“People in the service can probably attest to this,” he said. “It makes you curious about a [place] when you’ve been there. It makes it easier to learn new things about it. I remember living in Korea and just starting to get really interested in the culture of other parts of the world, but also geography and American geography.”

“Because I wasn’t growing up in the states, I would kind of study U.S. road atlases of all these exotic places. Places that sounded really far away from me because we were living on the other side of the world.”

Time was spent, as well of course, watching, what else?, Jeopardy!

“I loved to read, but we watched plenty of TV,” said Jennings. “Jeopardy! was a very easy sell. It was on right after school so me and my friends watched Jeopardy! every day because there was nothing else on. There was only one channel thanks to AFN.”

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