The life of a “Jeopardy!” contestant is a scramble, from earning a spot on the show to the trip to Southern California to the actual cutthroat competition itself.
The life of a “Jeopardy!” champion is something quite different, as SeaTac’s Ryan Fenster learned when producers brought him back for the “Tournament of Champions,” which began Monday (Nov. 4) on KOMO-TV. His journey to the tourney started in Denmark, where he’s going to graduate school.
“Returning to ‘Jeopardy!’ again was an excellent experience,” Fenster wrote in an email. “Everyone working there is very good at keeping spirits light and heads sharp. This time, however, I got flown out from Denmark, and put up in a very nice hotel, and staying in a very nice hotel is something I’ve always wanted to do!”
Fenster spoke with The Seattle Times via email due to difficulties communicating from Europe. The resident is focusing on Viking and Norse Studies at the University of Iceland in Reykjavik, and is currently attending the university’s sister institution in Aarhus, Denmark.
Fenster, who celebrates his 26th birthday on Nov. 7, is a seven-time “Jeopardy!” winner. He earned $156,497 in two separate stints last year, making a rare double appearance following a snafu with a question he gave to an answer that was ultimately proven correct.
He’s among 15 former champions invited to return for the tournament, a regular feature on the 36-year-old game show. This year’s competition is expected to get even more attention than usual with the return of James Holzhauer, the sports bettor from Las Vegas who won 32 straight games.
Holzhauer will appear in the quarterfinals on Wednesday, Nov. 6. Fenster takes his turn on Friday, Nov. 8. The semifinals and finals will air next week. The winner earns $250,000.
Fenster talked with The Times about Holzhauer; that other Pacific Northwest uber champion, Ken Jennings; and his strategy for winning:
Did you spend any time with James Holzhauer? What did you think of his winning streak?
I missed out on the Holzhauer story since I was living in Iceland at the time. Unfortunately, “Jeopardy!” is fairly unknown outside of the U.S./Canada region. The only episode I ever saw of his was when Emma Boettcher beat him. I figured that, if I ever had to face him, it would be, at most, in three games, and more likely only one or two, so I wasn’t super worried. I got to meet him, and Emma, and all the other champions during the tournament, of course, and James is a really cool guy, and a loving father to his little daughter, who came with. At the wrap party, he played tag with the children of some of the contestants. Emma is also nice, if a bit reserved. Honestly, everyone involved was, and is, super cool, and my favorite part of the whole experience was getting to hang out with them all!
Have you ever reached out to Ken Jennings?
I have never gotten in touch with Mr. Jennings, mostly because I figure that he gets bombarded with so many other Jeopardists of varying caliber, that I’d just be bothering him. That’s not to say I wouldn’t mind grabbing lunch with him if I ever got the opportunity. There is a degree of camaraderie between all contestants. Oh, and after the tournament I got to meet former champion Austin Rogers, which was super cool! He’s definitely my favorite player.
What’s your strategy for winning “Jeopardy!”?
My strategy for “Jeopardy!” is simply based around playing the game to have fun. I’m not trying to find patterns or bet in a certain way. Honestly, the most difficult aspect of the game, and the one that really makes the difference, is the timing of buzzers, and that is very hard to practice for. Anyone who gets on ‘Jeopardy!’ is smart, and most of us know most of the answers. The game almost always goes to the fastest hand.
How did winning “Jeopardy!” change your life?
My first two appearances did not so much change my life as they made it less stressful. I had planned on starting my grad studies in the 2018-19 academic year, and I had enough money to do it, but not by much. Plus, about six weeks before taping my first run, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, which has placed extra stress and dietary restrictions on my day-to-day. The prize money has kept me afloat, without having to worry about high food prices in Europe. It’s true when they say money is one of the biggest sources of stress in most people’s lives. I’ve also stashed a good chunk of my prize money in a CD for when I return, so hopefully I can place a down payment on a house.
“Jeopardy!” airs at 7:30 p.m. weeknights on KOMO-TV. The “Tournament of Champions” quarterfinals runs through Nov. 8; the semifinals, Nov. 11-13; the finals, Nov. 14-15.