Thanks to the $2.5 million he took home courtesy of his 74-game Jeopardy! winning streak last year, Ken Jennings is living on Easy Street. But that address looks a lot like his old one.
"I haven't even bought a new car," says Jennings, 30, who still drives his 11-year-old Saturn. Friends kid him about ordering water with his lunch. In fact, the biggest check he's written has been the six-figure payment he shipped to the IRS. (OK, he did remodel his kitchen, but that was more "because my wife wanted to.")
"Everybody is disappointed because I didn't blow all my money on 10 Jaguars," Jennings says with a laugh. "People want to live vicariously through you and then say how stupid you are for how you spent [your winnings]. But I've hardly changed my life at all."
The biggest difference? He's taken a leave from his computer software job in order to film TV commercials for Cingular and Allstate, design a board game and appear alongside Grover on Sesame Street. Still, those who know him best say there's no sign that the Salt Lake City resident has gone Hollywood.
"He's been able to keep his impulses to act like a millionaire under control," says his brother Nathan. "All I can say is we got a nicer Christmas present this year." He pauses. "He didn't read the book first before giving it to me."
Maybe an extra $2 million — the top prize in Jeopardy!'s Ultimate Tournament of Champions — will make it easier for Jennings to spring for the $100 Twilight Zone DVD set he wants. The tournament concludes May 23-25 with a winner-take-all showdown between Jennings and the top two challengers who emerge from a three-month-long playoff. And Jennings is feeling the pressure to live up to last year's glory.
"I don't have that much to gain. If I win, people will say, 'Of course he won. He always wins,'" says Jennings, who has gone back to studying the homemade flash cards he and his wife put together during his initial Jeopardy! run. "And if I lose, people will say, 'He wasn't that good anyway.' But you just can't say no to this opportunity."