Jeopardy: The Greatest of All Time returns tonight, and has already solidified its place as the greatest thing on TV right now. Forget the NFL playoffs or the return of The Bachelor—even people who aren’t game show fans are glued to watching Brad Rutter, Ken Jennings, and James Holzhauer duking it out for ultimate supremacy.
What’s made this tournament so addictive? First things first, it’s the epitome of competition. Rutter, Jennings, and Holzhauer are all Jeopardy icons, but it’s not just that they’re successful; they’ve all achieved success in different ways.
Brad Rutter is the game’s top money winner, while Ken Jennings has the longest consecutive win streak at 74 games, and James Holzhauer has set 20 different Jeopardy records. So, we’re not only watching the best of the best, but we’re watching their styles of success compete, too. This is the game show equivalent of comparing Tom Brady versus Michael Jordan and Babe Ruth (we’ll let you decide who’s who).
But that’s only the foundation for why Jeopardy: The Greatest of All Time is so great. It truly stands out because of the personalities behind the podiums. Everyone can remember watching at least one of these three going on their historic runs. We know them and we all have our favorites. I was in college when Ken Jennings stormed over the competition and can still recall geeking out when I met him during his tour for his first book, Brainiac. Somewhere, there’s a photo of me and Ken, with me looking way too excited.
That investment makes this more than a game show tournament of champions. We, as viewers, all have someone we’re rooting for. It doesn’t matter if you’re a die-hard Jeopardy fan or only watched once in a while; we all can connect with what we’re seeing right now and understand that it’s a big deal.
And it helps that Brad, Ken, and James are even more engaging than they were when we first saw them. They all have distinct personalities: Brad is the stalwart veteran who first blazed the trail and is quickly becoming the arch-nemesis of the Daily Double. Ken is the witty one who’s always got a joke handy and keeps the mood light. And James brings that little bit of deserved ego to the table, being the guy that some love and others love to hate. Plus, don’t forget the dry wit of Alex Trebek, the unquestioned greatest game show host of all time.
These guys are fun to watch, and they’re also having fun with one another. If Jeopardy: The Greatest of All Time was just three smart guys standing at podiums answering questions, we would’ve been bored within five minutes. But these are three people who genuinely love the game, genuinely respect one another and are more than willing to poke fun at each other, as well as themselves. From Brad constantly running into almost every Daily Double, to James making his Pat Sajak quip, to Ken cruising through the tongue twisters of “Triple Rhyme Time,” these guys feel more like a group of friends on trivia night than the top players in Jeopardy history.
And that’s what we’ll remember Jeopardy: The Greatest of All Time for, no matter who wins. We’ve seen tournaments of champions before, and we’ve seen game show stunts before, but this is why we love game shows. James Holzhauer, Ken Jennings, and Brad Rutter are showing us that knowing a lot about a lot of stuff is cool, and it’s fun. They’re not simply smart and showing it off yet again; they’re demonstrating a love of knowledge, and encouraging our own. They’re making us laugh, scream, yell answers at the TV, and learn the colors of the Florida State logo. And we’re all a little bit better for going on this unbelievable ride with them.
There are already rumors about ABC wanting to do another tournament with Jennings, Rutter, and Holzhauer, and let’s hope they don’t. Jeopardy: The Greatest of All Time is something special, the gold standard for why game shows are still relevant and how wonderful they can be. There’s no need to mess with perfection—unless you’re Ken Jennings and James Holzhauer roasting each other on Twitter.
Jeopardy: The Greatest of All Time airs tonight at 8:00 p.m. ET/PT on ABC. Watch the entire tournament now on Hulu!