• Share
  • Tweet
  • Share

The most prolific winner in game show history has finally been toppled from his pedestal.

After racking up 74 consecutive victories and pocketing more than $2.5 million in prize money, Jeopardy! master Ken Jennings was defeated in his 75th appearance on the show, which aired on Tuesday.

KenJen was taken out of the game by California real estate agent Nancy Zerg, a former actor who never attended college and whose own 8-year-old daughter asked Jennings for his autograph before the game began.

Though Jennings was in the lead with $14,400 going into Final Jeopardy, Zerg was close on his heels with $10,000--and the former champ's incorrect response was enough to make her the winner.

The clue that stumped the brainiac: Most of this firm's 70,000 seasonal white-collar employees work only four months a year.

The answer: H&R Block. Zerg, who said she has an accountant friend she can never reach come tax time, pounced on the answer straight away, but Jennings, who has always prepared his own taxes was baffled and finally answered "What is Fed Ex?"

The wrong answer dropped him down to $8,799, and Zerg became the new champ with $14,001 to her name.

"Nancy was great...her timing was right on," Jennings said in a characteristic display of good sportsmanship. "It was not a fluke. She knew things I didn't know. I thought, Nancy, good for you, you totally deserve this."

Jennings said he had a feeling the jig was up as he pondered the Final Jeopardy clue and noticed out of the corner of his eye that Zerg was already writing down her answer with a determined hand.

Though it aired Tuesday, KenJen's losing episode was actually taped in September, and the poorly kept secret of his defeat leaked onto the Internet almost immediately after he scribbled down his streak-ending response.

However, the quiz-show king has not blown through his 15 minutes of fame quite yet.

Now that his Jeopardy! downfall is official, the mild-mannered computer software engineer from Salt Lake City is off on a media blitz, making appearances on Tuesday's Late Show with David Letterman and Wednesday's Good Morning America and Live with Regis and Kelly.

Tuesday's edition of Nightline centers on Jennings and Wednesday's A&E Biography will feature him and other Jeopardy! champs.

Barbara Walters also picked KenJen for inclusion in her 10 Most Fascinating People of 2004 special, set to air Dec. 8.

Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek waxed complimentary about the player who boosted his show's ratings by a whopping 22 percent during his tenure.

"Ken is an amazing player and his record speaks for itself," Trebek said. "I very much doubt that we will ever see an accomplishment like this again."

Jennings, a Mormon, will donate 10 percent of his record $2,520,700 in winnings to his church. Beyond that, he said he plans to take a "really nice" European vacation and he has a book deal in the works.

In addition to his prize money, Jennings said he took away a sense of accomplishment from the experience.

"During my life, I think I made a lot of safe and practical choices," he said. "I never took a chance or did something that for me would be a dream. And being on Jeopardy! has been that dream.

"You are much happier, I think, when you go for the long shot and play to your strengths instead of always doing the safe, easy thing. I'm very grateful to this experience, if nothing else, for having taught me that."