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Who wants to be a game show champ?
Ken Jennings has won over $1 million on 'Jeopardy!' Think you can do the same?
July 14, 2004: 11:29 AM EDT
By Deshundra Jefferson and Alexander Haris, CNN/Money staff writers

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - He did it!

After 30 days of dominating on "Jeopardy!," Ken Jennings topped the $1 million mark on Tuesday. The total take for the 30-year-old software engineer now stands at $1,004,960.

Jennings is now the show's second biggest moneymaker, falling modestly behind Brad Rutter, who won $1.15 million in a Jeopardy Tournament of Champions. Jennings will have a chance to become No. 1 overall on Wednesday's show.

Still, if your knowledge of European history needs dusting off or if you don't have a couple of weeks to spare, you may be wondering: Isn't there an easier way to make a fortune on TV?

Steve Beverly, professor and acting chair for the department of communication arts at Union University, says that "Jeopardy!" is the hardest game show on television; and in history is second only to the defunct College Bowl.

Landing a spot of "Jeopardy!" may be as competitive as the game. The process of elimination begins with a 50-question test and is quickly followed by a mock game, videotaped by host Alex Trebek. Making it past either round isn't a guarantee you'll be called in for an actual taping either. The producers keep an active file of candidates for the show and call people in as needed.

"Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" has the best payout potential, thanks to the $10 million Super Millionaire contest, and Beverly notes that the show has given away more money than any other program on the air. The biggest game show gain, $2.18 million won by Dr. Kevin Olmstead in April 2001, also came from the "Millionaire" ranks.

"Based on where he is today, Jennings would have to win 66 games on "Jeopardy!" to top Olmstead's winnings," Beverly noted.

Again, the questions on "Millionaire" are less than contestant friendly.

"The material is difficult. You can't study for that show," Beverly said.

The "Price is Right" wins the prize for being the easiest to win, but you won't get that million-dollar pay-off.

How does Ken stack up?
Ken Jennings has a ways to go before he joins this list.
Name Show Earnings 
Dr. Kevin Olmstead Who Wants to Be a Millionaire $2.18 million 
Ed Toutant Who Wants to Be a Millionaire $1.86 million 
Lt. David Legler Twenty-One $1.765 million 
Curtis Warren Greed $1.41 million 
John Carpenter Who Wants to Be a Millionaire $1.125 million 

"You've got to be a shopper, you've got to know how much things cost," Beverly said, noting that the questions don't stack up to either "Jeopardy" or "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" in terms of the degree of difficulty.

The average daily winnings from that show range from $15,000 to $40,000, but contestants don't get to make a repeat performance.

Overall, competition for slots will be heating up as the game lineup slims down to nine shows this fall following the cancellation of "The Pyramid Show" and "Hollywood Squares." You may be thinking that the 1950s were the game show heyday, but 1975 was the peak year with 29 shows on air.

But if you're ready to get your game on, both "Jeopardy!" and "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" are holding auditions.

Just remember, how well you play the game determines how much you win.  Top of page

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