NEW YORK — “Jeopardy” whiz Ken Jennings finally met his match after a 74-game run who made brainiacs cool, beaten by a woman whose own 8-year-old daughter asked for his autograph when they first met.
As someone who always has prepared his own tax returns, Jennings was tripped up in Final Jeopardy by this answer: Most of this firm’s 70,000 seasonal white-collar employees work only four months a year.
The correct reply: “What is H&R Block?” But Jennings guessed Federal Express, ending his remarkable run as the biggest winner in TV game show history with a haul of $2,520,700.
Having an accountant-friend who’s nearly impossible to reach at tax time paid off big-time for his conqueror, California real estate agent Nancy Zerg, who ousted the baby-faced killer competitor in the episode airing yesterday.
During his streak that began June 2, Jennings usually had opponents so thoroughly beaten that the Final Jeopardy question was meaningless to the outcome. But Zerg was within striking range at that point, with $10,000 to Jennings’ $14,400.
The champion had to think; out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Zerg had quickly written her reply.
“I was pretty sure before the music ended that was the ballgame,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Her correct reply gave Zerg $14,001 to Jennings’ $8,799.
Even before that, she had needed an unusual display of Jennings fallibility to stay in the game. He twice answered wrong on Daily Double questions, which give contestants a chance to make big wagers and increase their leads.
Maybe that’s why he paused, ever so slightly, when asked in the AP interview yesterday whether he had lost or been beaten. He then graciously gave Zerg credit. “I would have dwelt on it if I missed something that I knew or didn’t phrase it in the form of a question,” said Jennings, a computer software engineer from Salt Lake City. “It was a big relief to me that I lost to someone who played a better game than me.”
Zerg, a former actress who lives in Ventura, Calif., told the AP that she psyched herself up before the game by repeating to herself: “Someone’s got to beat him sometime, it might as well be me.”