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Ken Jennings may be the highest-paid game show contestant of all time, but that’s not what is most important to him. Jennings is also a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (sometimes casually called the Mormon Church) and he’s never been afraid to share out his faith.
Jennings’ run began during “Jeopardy!’s” 20th season with the episode aired on June 2, 2004, in which he unseated two-time returning champion Jerry Harvey, and continued into season 21. On November 30, 2004, Jennings’ reign as “Jeopardy!” champion ended when he lost his 75th game to challenger Nancy Zerg. During this time, Jennings’ shot to being a national superstar.
“We were very happy before all this. And we felt we needed to just stay real and normal through all the craziness,” Jennings stated.
During his “Jeopardy!” winning streak, Jennings was a software engineer for CHG Healthcare, a healthcare-placement firm in Salt Lake City, Utah. Jennings has appeared on other TV quiz shows, adding to his earnings and making him the record holder, at a total of US $3,623,414.29.
“We went to Europe, so I guess that was our big splurge after winning,” confesses Ken. “My wife Mindy served a mission in France and I served in Spain, so she showed me around Paris and I showed her around Madrid, and that’s sort of the only really big thing we’ve done.
“We just realized that using money to buy toys doesn’t really make one any happier. If the money’s been able to buy anything it’s bought time. I’m able to spend more time now home with my family and less time at the office.”
During his Jeopardy! reign and throughout his appearances and interviews after the show, Ken’s religion as a Latter-day Saint was a relatively common subject.
“There were opportunities to bring up the Church,” says Ken. “Alex would ask me, if I was going to tithe my winnings, so suddenly you’re talking about tithing on national TV. I decided that early on the only thing I could do was just be myself. And if there’s some lingering impression that this fairly normal if not slightly nerdy guy, and yet is Mormon, then I think that’s okay. That was sort of my goal all along—to be just the normal guy who was also Mormon.”
“Sometimes people have said to me, ‘Thanks for representing the Church’ or ‘You were a good representative of the Church,’ but that really wasn’t something I consciously thought much about. I never thought, ‘Oh, I can go out there and be the Mormon guy.’ I was just myself.”
It was because of Jennings upbringing that he believes he is so passionate about learning, which helped him be so successful on gaming shows.
“Quite often people have also asked if my LDS upbringing has had any effect on me and I’ve been able to say, ‘Yes, actually knowledge and education are particularly privileged in LDS circles’. We believe the glory of God is intelligence and of all the things we can get in life, the only thing we’re going to take with us is what we have learned. And that’s the way I was raised—to think that way—that there is nothing as valuable as learning.”