By: Connor Lenahan
I’ve been thinking a lot about dominance the past two days. Earlier today Jonah Keri from Grantland posted an article talking about the best individual months in MLB history. With little surprise Barry Bonds appeared on the list. With significantly more surprise Bonds made the list five times. The guy was an absolute monster, as evidenced by the home run to the stratosphere above. This has nothing and everything to do with what I’m going to be talking about today.
Barry Bonds was unquestionably the best baseball player of my lifetime. In another sport – another American pastime – there was someone who reached Bonds-esque levels of excellence. I’m talking about Brad Rutter.
There’s an exceedingly good chance you do not know who Brad Rutter is. Rutter is the all-time money winner on Jeopardy. You’re probably convinced it’s Ken Jennings. Jennings famously won 74 straight games and totaled $2.5 million during his streak. Adding in other tournaments Jennings’s career winnings are $3.1 million.
He’s behind Rutter by over a million dollars. This is real. Allow me to bring you up to speed.
Before 2003 there was a rule on Jeopardy that once you won five games in a row you had to “retire” and come back for the Tournament of Champions tournament that allows all of the year’s previous winners to battle it out. Rutter won five games in 2000 and then the Tournament of Champions tournament the next year.
In 2002 he returned for another champions tournament, this time the Million Dollar Masters tournament. Rutter won that tournament too.
Then in 2005 there was the Ultimate Tournament of Champions. Rutter won that and did so by beating Ken Jennings in the finals.
It should be apparent that this guy is really good at Jeopardy. If you’ve been paying attention, I’ve never mentioned him losing. That’s because it didn’t happen. Rutter won five games and had to retire from the show. Then he proceeded to run his way, undefeated, through three straight tournaments. Rutter went undefeated through this entire stretch.
In 2011 Rutter and Jennings were invited back for the exhibition event in which they faced off against Watson, a computer created by IBM to play Jeopardy. It crushed the humans, but then again that was it’s explicit purpose in life. This wasn’t a game, it was a demonstration of technologic engineering. To my eyes, Rutter remained undefeated.
Or at the very least Rutter was undefeated against humans. That’s what made the past few days so much fun. Jeopardy was hosting the Battle of the Decades Tournament. To little surprise, Rutter and Jennings ended up in the finals. The final took place over the past two days. Tonight, in fantastic fashion, Rutter came out victorious, winning the $1,000,000 purse for the tournament.
His all-time winnings sit north of $4.5 million. He has not lost to a human ever on Jeopardy, a streak stretching 14 years. Brad Rutter is far and away the king of Jeopardy. He has an unbelievable swagger to him that makes him a pure joy to watch play. He’s electric. In my perfect world he’s the replacement for Alex Trebek when he eventually decides to cede the throne to the hosting position.
I realize it’s exceedingly nerdy, even for my standards, to be freaking out about a game show contestant. This is something different altogether. This is success at a legendary level. I’ve grown up watching and loving Jeopardy, and to see someone lay waste to every single challenge to the throne is incredible. He’s never reached a Ken Jennings level of fame, but Ken Jennings has never reached a Brad Rutter level of victory. Let’s just take a second to salute Brad Rutter, The King.
Connor Lenahan (@ConnorLenahan) is a sophomore at Boston University, majoring in journalism. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org