How The Lives Of Jeopardy! Champions Have Changed Since Achieving Fame

Since 2003, "Jeopardy!" has seen a surge in high-performing contestants winning hundreds of thousands — and sometimes millions — of dollars. This resulted from removing the five-game streak limit, which made unlimited wins a possibility. Ken Jennings — who became a permanent "Jeopardy!" host along with Mayim Bialik in July 2022, following the death of beloved longtime host Alex Trebek — was the first such winner in 2004. To date, he remains the show's "Greatest of All Time" and has become a household name outside the "Jeopardy!" world.

But how have other memorable "Jeopardy!" champions fared? With many players going on exciting winning streaks, we've become curious about how their lives have changed since earning both fame and fortune. From the early "Jeopardy!" champions to the May 2023 "Tournament of Champions" winner — "game show villain" James Holzhauer — to the show's first-ever transgender champ, Amy Schneider, this is how the lives of "Jeopardy!" winners have changed since achieving fame.

Ken Jennings

Before being named "Greatest of All Time" and a permanent "Jeopardy!" host, Ken Jennings was known as the show's highest-ever earning contestant during regular-season play, with 74 games and $2,520,700 won in 2004. Ken Jennings hit another milestone in 2022, having officially hosted more games than he's played. During his initial streak, the Brigham Young University grad worked as a software engineer — a job he quit after his "Jeopardy!" run. 

Jennings was born in Seattle and grew up overseas while his father worked as an attorney in Singapore and Korea. During those years, Jennings watched "Jeopardy!" every day after school, calling the show his "first love" in an interview. In college, Jennings was the captain of the quiz bowl team and wrote and edited questions for National Academic Quiz Tournaments. When friends started competing on game shows like "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," he decided to apply for "Jeopardy!"

After Jennings' historic winning streak, he appeared on numerous talk shows, and the late Barbara Walters put him on her "10 Most Fascinating People" list. He later became a successful author, penning several trivia-themed books and a parenting book. In 2021, he appeared on the ABC game show "The Chase" along with fellow "Jeopardy!" champions James Holzhauer and Brad Rutter before leaving the show to host "Jeopardy!" permanently. It's safe to say "Jeopardy!" played a key role in Jennings' life trajectory — a phenomenon dubbed the "J! Effect."

James Holzhauer

In 2019, James Holzhauer made headlines for his remarkable 32-game "Jeopardy!" winning streak, which earned him $2,462,216 and put him at No. 2 for regular-season winnings behind Ken Jennings. Holzhauer's earnings were already up to a whopping $3,462,216 from the 2020 "Tournament of Champions" before becoming the $500,000 grand prize winner of the "Jeopardy! Masters" in May 2023. Holzhauer also holds the top prize and, amazingly, all 10 spots on the show's Leaderboard of Legends for the highest winnings in a single game.

Holzhauer was interviewed by various media outlets in 2019, and he told Money Magazine he planned to use some of his winnings to travel the world and to help out his family. "I'd like to finally send my old man and his missus to the U.S. Open this summer," he shared with CNBC. He also planned to donate money to children's charities. "Maybe it's being a father, but something about kids in need really resonates with both me and my wife," he said to "Jeopardy!" "So whoever we can help with this money ... we can certainly help other people more than ourselves at this point."

Having never worked a 9-to-5 job, the Las Vegas-based champ still has plenty of business ventures. In 2021, he began writing a sports betting column for The Athletic and he landed a gig as an expert "Chaser" on ABC's "The Chase."

Brad Rutter

Few people can say they've won nearly $5 million on a TV game show, but Brad Rutter can. Rutter is the "Jeopardy!" champion ranked No. 1 for highest all-time earnings. He's racked up an impressive $4,938,436, making him the top-earning contestant in all of TV game show history.

Rutter's story is a bit different from our other champions. He first appeared on "Jeopardy!" in 2000 when players were limited to five wins. Rutter won five games, and $55,102, before moving on to the tournaments where he won the majority of his prize money and went undefeated for many years.

The former high school quiz bowler gained many opportunities from his "Jeopardy!" champion status, including a gig hosting a local radio quiz show. Today, the champ is an expert "Chaser" on ABC's "The Chase" opposite fellow "Jeopardy!" great James Holzhauer. Surprisingly, the idea of a career in entertainment only occurred to Rutter after a major tournament win. "I won the million-dollar Master's tournament at Radio City in 2003 and as I was checking out of the hotel, I ran into some crew members and they were like, 'Hey, did you ever think about being on television, you're really natural at it,'" he told HOLR Magazine. "I guess it had crossed my mind as a kid but I didn't really think it was anything people did, so that's what really put the idea in my head."

Matt Amodio

Matt Amodio, a lifelong "Jeopardy!" fan, only applied for the show at his dad's urging. "I was only reluctantly trying out because I didn't think I would make it, and even if I did make it I wouldn't be very good," Amodio told Entertainment Weekly. It's a good thing he did, because he made $1,518,601 in 2021 from regular-season play, plus more earnings from tournaments. He's ranked No. 3 for 38 consecutive games won and the highest winnings from regular-season play, while his all-time winnings put him at No. 4 on the "Jeopardy!" Leaderboard of Legends. During the show's May 2023 "Tournament of Champions," he came in third, earning another $150,000. 

After earning his Ph.D. in machine learning and artificial intelligence from Yale in 2022, he has worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. The champ shared that his winnings have certainly relieved his short-term worries about money. "I will admit that I had some financial considerations in my immediate future ... So on a very practical level, that's helpful," he told Entertainment Weekly. "But more importantly, the idea of just saying 'Jeopardy! champion' ... that's just a tremendous source of pride for me."

Amy Schneider

Becoming a "Jeopardy!" champion has certainly changed Amy Schneider's life — her history-making turn as the show's first transgender champion and highest-earning woman made major headlines in 2022. Schneider is ranked No. 2 for consecutive games won, No. 4 for highest earnings per regular-season play, and her all-time earnings come in at $1,632,800 and include her $250,000 grand prize for winning the November 2022 "Tournament of Champions."

The "Jeopardy!" champ has since taken a gamble in her professional life. She tweeted in February 2022, "I quit my day job yesterday! It's a bit nerve-wracking to pivot from software engineer to... public figure, I guess? But regardless of the outcome I'm so excited to spend the next couple years at least tackling this new challenge!"

Schneider's work as a public figure has included advocating for the LGBTQ+ community. She visited the White House on March 31, 2022, to celebrate the newly-declared "Transgender Day of Visibility." And that November, she testified against an Ohio bill that would limit the rights of transgender minors. Schneider is also ready to share her story, with a memoir scheduled to come out in October 2023.

 Schnieder wrote in an essay for "Jeopardy!" that she's been featured on news programs like "Good Morning America," gotten published in Defector, and received a GLAAD Media Awards honor, "all just for being myself on TV."

Mattea Roach

In early 2022, Mattea Roach learned they'd appear on "Jeopardy!" after submitting the online test only once "out of boredom," they told NBC News. "I thought I was going to be kind of one and done." However, they went on a surprising 23-game winning streak. Their total earnings were $810,983, which includes their $250,000 winnings from placing second in May 2023's "Tournament of Champions."

Prior to this, the Canadian LSAT tutor had felt down on their luck, anticipating law school application rejection letters. Roach wrote for "Jeopardy!" how the experience has changed them "forever for the better." They wrote, "I never expected that becoming a 23-day 'Jeopardy!' champion would be my pathway to financial security in my twenties, but I feel so blessed that things have turned out this way."

Roach found it extremely rewarding to hear from family, friends, acquaintances, and strangers who said their appearance on the show "made a positive impact on their lives." While law school is still "in the cards" for Roach, they're excited for whatever the future holds. One such opportunity that's come their way was landing a gig hosting "The Backbench" on Canadaland media.

Andrew He

Andrew He, a software developer from San Francisco, is a five-game winner from 2021 who took home $157,365 and set a record for highest-ever earnings for a contestant's first game. He returned for the 2022 "Tournament of Champions" and came in second place, earning $100,000. He also appeared on "Jeopardy! Masters" in May 2023, coming in fourth and leaving with another $100,000.

However, this wasn't the only prize He went home with — the "Jeopardy!" champion announced during the tournament that his wife, Sarah He, had just given birth to the couple's first child, a son named Everett. "I had the double blessing of going from being here on the stage to within 24 hours going with my partner and welcoming the arrival of our son," he said emotionally during the episode. We're sure that He's winnings will certainly come in handy as a new dad.

Sam Buttrey

In December 2021, Sam Buttrey, an associate professor at the Naval Postgraduate School, became the first-ever "Jeopardy! Professors Tournament" champion, winning the $100,000 grand prize. "This has been the greatest time, and to come out ahead of all these other great players is something I'll remember forever," Sam said in an interview for the show.

Winning this tournament guaranteed Buttrey a spot in the next "Tournament of Champions," where he placed third. Then, in May 2023, he competed in "Jeopardy! Masters," coming in sixth place and taking home another $50,000. He also left with the friends he made from both tournaments. "I made genuine friends, and that's rare enough in the world," Buttrey said in an interview for the U.S. Navy.

Additionally, the professor's quick wit and resemblance to comedian Steve Martin got him noticed by media outlets and even the comedian himself. "So great to split the prize money with Sam!" Martin joked on Twitter. Of the entire experience, Buttrey later said, "This instant internet-era fame has been a little weird and a little fun — I don't expect to experience anything like this again."

Cris Pannullo

"Jeopardy!" is not Cris Pannullo's first foray into the game show world. In October 2018, the Ocean City, New Jersey, resident took home $5,000 after appearing on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire." When the customer success operations manager and former professional poker player won game after game during his "Jeopardy!" run in 2022, many expected him to be the next James Holzhauer — host Ken Jennings even drew comparisons between their playing styles. 

Pannullo's streak, however, ended with his 22nd game. "Any one of the Daily Doubles that I bet big on like today, I could have gotten wrong ... It could have happened in Game 1; it could have happened in Game 3," Pannullo said in an interview with the show. "So, to go 20-plus games is like the greatest streak of luck I'll ever have in my life." 

Pannullo hasn't shared any plans for his earnings, and his "Jeopardy!" story is also far from finished. Though he didn't have the opportunity to compete in "Jeopardy! Masters" in May 2023, he watched from the audience and will compete in 2023's "Tournament of Champions."

Ryan Long

Ryan Long, a single father and rideshare driver from Philadelphia, had had a number of odd jobs and titles over the years, and now he can add "Jeopardy!" champion" to that list. In Long's 2022 "Jeopardy!" run, he won 16 consecutive games and earned over $300,000. 

In September 2022, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney honored Long for becoming the top "Jeopardy!" player from Philadelphia. As for how he spent his winnings? "I stuck some money aside, [I] bought a truck. And the rest is none of your beeswax," he told 6ABC. "I have been pushing myself for so long working, that now I have time to uncoil the stress I have been carrying around for twenty years." The champ and his son also appeared at the city's annual 6ABC Thanksgiving Day Parade, and Long was later a guest on the NPR podcast "Through the Looking Glass."

Long applied for "Jeopardy!" in September 2020, though he'd previously signed up and failed to compete. Between his audition and show appearance, Long became very ill from COVID-19. He shared with "Jeopardy!" that recovering from his near-death experience "taught [him] not to take anything for granted" and "relit a fire in [him] that [he'd] thought had gone out a long time ago." He added, "With the help of a lot of people, I managed to achieve a big [dream]. For that, I am forever grateful."

Buzzy Cohen

If Buzzy Cohen's name sounds familiar, it could be because the former "Jeopardy!" champion guest-hosted the 2021 "Tournament of Champions" while the show rotated through hosts. In 2016, Cohen won nine consecutive games and walked away with $164,603. But the music producer became known for more than just his winning streak — with his bubbly, funny personality, he had a good rapport with the show's longtime host, the late Alex Trebek.

Cohen's winnings weren't limited to his regular-season gameplay — he returned for the 2017 "Tournament of Champions" and ultimately won the grand prize of $250,000. He also returned as a team captain in 2019 for the "All-Star Games." Cohen was later asked to guest host the "Tournament of Champions." "I'm really hoping that I can give these great champions the tournament they deserve," he told "Jeopardy!" of the honor.

The opportunities the show afforded Cohen didn't stop there. He was a frequent guest on the "Inside Jeopardy!" podcast and now hosts a podcast called "This is Jeopardy! ... America's Favorite Quiz Show." In 2022, Cohen also joined the hit ABC game show "The Chase" for its third season as a regular addition to the show's expert panel.

David Madden

A year after Ken Jennings' historic "Jeopardy!" win, David Madden became the show's next big winner. In 2005, the Princeton University grad won $432,400 across 19 consecutive games. His all-time winnings put him at $763,733 and afforded him the opportunity to embark on an 8-month, 2,600-mile, cross-country hiking trip to raise awareness for the Fisher House Foundation, which helps provide affordable housing options for veterans and their families. "It's been a great adventure and to be able to do it for a great charity makes it that much better," Madden said in an interview with the show.

These days, Madden is the founder and executive director of International Academic Competitions, an opportunity he was afforded, in part, thanks to his time on "Jeopardy!". He explained in a 2018 feature, "In the wake of 'Jeopardy!,' I founded the National History Bee and National History Bowl, two history-themed quiz tournaments, which hundreds of thousands of students in the USA have taken part in." Additionally, Madden launched several other events including the National Science Bee, U.S. Geography Olympiad, International History Olympiad, and U.S. Academic Bee and Bowl. "My 'Jeopardy!' winnings provided the seed money and the impetus to get back involved in academic competition," he explained. "I cannot thank the show enough for that, as this truly is my dream job."

Larissa Kelly

In 2009, Larissa Kelly became the first woman to win five consecutive games on "Jeopardy!" In December 2021, Amy Schneider beat the champ's record for the woman with the highest all-time earnings. Kelly tweeted after Schneider's record-setting victory, "Well, it was fun to hold a Jeopardy record for a few years ... but it's been even more fun to watch @Jeopardamy set new standards for excellence, on the show and off." Between her regular-season play and tournament winnings, Kelly earned a total of $655,930.

Like many of her fellow "Jeopardy!" champions, her show winnings altered the course of her life. "When my husband, Jeff, and I got out of grad school, the recession was still going, and the academic job market was dreadful," she said in an interview with the show. "The money afforded by 'Jeopardy!' gave us the flexibility to take a different path and pursue more entrepreneurial jobs." The couple found roles with the National Academic Quiz Tournaments, and Kelly's experience on the show also enabled the two to buy a spacious house in San Francisco.

Matt Jackson

Matt Jackson decided to apply for a spot on "Jeopardy!" after a friend placed second in the College Championship in 2010 and encouraged him. While he did not advance after taking the college online test twice, in 2014, Jackson took the adult online test and made it to the in-person auditions. The rest, as they say, is history.

In 2015, the paralegal — who is also the son of a federal judge — racked up an impressive $411,612. Jackson went on to earn another $200,000 in tournament winnings.

In 2018, Jackson shared his own "J! Effect" story with the show, which included a wealth of speaking opportunities. "I was invited back to my high school to speak to the current kids, many of whom apparently worshipped me during my 'Jeopardy!' run," he said. "I also got invited to speak to D.C.'s District Court and Court of Appeals judges for their lunchtime speaker series."

Jason Zuffranieri

Only 10 months after James Holzhauer's historic "Jeopardy!" run in 2019, math teacher Jason Zuffranieri enjoyed the show's next winning streak, winning 19 games and earning $532,496. This put him in a tie for eighth place with David Madden for consecutive games won, but he outranked Madden for the highest winnings during regular-season play. His success is especially impressive considering Zuffranieri had to take the online test nine times before finally making it to the "Jeopardy!" stage.

Despite his winnings and, at the time, being ranked just under Ken Jennings and James Holzhauer for the highest winnings for regular-season play, Zuffranieri apparently had no intention of leaving his day job. While he was featured in national news outlets including USA Today and Today following his run, he still teaches math at Albuquerque Academy, a role he's held since 2013, and coaches students for the Science Bowl and Mathcounts. 

Julia Collins

In 2014, Julia Collins won 20 consecutive "Jeopardy!" games, putting her total winnings at $428,100. Until Amy Schneider's historic win in 2022, Collins had been the female "Jeopardy!" contestant with the most consecutive games won. Schneider even honored Collins during her own "Jeopardy!" reign by wearing a sweater, which, she explained on the show, "was kind of her thing. Kind of in tribute."

In 2018, Collins told "Jeopardy!" about the "unconventional opportunities" the show afforded her. "I've been able to take some time off from the corporate world," she said, explaining that her winnings enabled her to travel, volunteer, and run a website focused on women and their career paths. "My 'Jeopardy!' winnings created the unusual confluence of time and money, and I wanted to take advantage of that and do something memorable," she shared in another interview for "Jeopardy!" This also included a month-long dream vacation to France, where she visited museums and took baking classes.