Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings' Controversy Explained

If people were asked to describe "Jeopardy!" contestant Ken Jennings — the highest-earning American game show winner of all time (per Newsweek) — the word controversy would likely never come up. 

The Washington state native is a Brigham Young University graduate best known for his legendary 74-episode run on the long-running trivia program from June to November 2004, which landed him a smooth $2.52 million (per History Channel). Jennings has made numerous television appearances and game show cameos over the years, causing him to become a household name and pop culture figure to many. But like most celebrities, fame can also breed misfortune — especially if you have a shady internet past. 

Thus was the case with Jennings, a seemingly innocent TV personality who eventually drew the ire of "Jeopardy!" viewers and TV regulars with his bizarre off-screen behavior and social commentary. Let's delve into what made Jennings go from a beloved "Jeopardy!" contestant to what some have called a creepy and inconsiderate Twitter troll.

Ken Jennings' controversial Twitter past

While it would be almost impossible to list out all of the wild things Ken Jennings has said online over the years, we will try our best to narrow down his most outrageous and widely shared Twitter shenanigans.

In November 2020, the "Jeopardy!" winner faced online scorn over his six-year old tweet that read: "Nothing sadder than a hot person in a wheelchair." Why the delayed scorn? The tweet only went viral after Jennings began taking over hosting duties following Alex Trebek's cancer diagnosis and subsequent death on November 8, 2020. Upon Jennings' announcement as interim host, actor Yvette Nicole Brown opposed the choice, pointing to the offensive past tweet and noting that Jennings had only recently deleted it.

Others joined in on the condemnation, which still continues as of this writing. "Watched for 50 yrs., but haven't watched since Jennings, (who said 'Nothing sadder than a hot person in a wheelchair') started hosting," wrote Twitter user @HelloDCN8ive on November 10, 2021. "Such a pompous & ugly comment," the user added. "It's especially egregious for him to host on Veterans Day when there are 250,000 veterans using wheelchairs."

Despite the public backlash, however, Jennings retained the temporary "Jeopardy!" hosting gig, sharing the duties with "Blossom" and "The Big Bang Theory" star Mayim Bialik. 

Jeopardy! fans thought Ken Jennings was vying for Alex Trebek's job

In September 2020, Ken Jennings was brought on to "Jeopardy!" as a consulting producer (via The Wrap). According to The Ringer, there were rumors that the move was akin to a "tryout'" for the former contestant-turned-"Jeopardy!"-icon. Internet users at the time called out ABC and "Jeopardy!" showrunners for allowing Jennings to make what they believed was a move on Trebek's longtime spot, and then again after they named him as one of the interim hosts during Trebek's absence later that year. 

"Note to Jeopardy, if anyone is grooming Jennings to replace Alex as host, just stop," wrote one Twitter user in September 2020. "We have suffered enough @Jeopardy. We do not want or need Ken Jennings," another added around the same time. In November 2020, after Jennings was named interim host, Daily Beast writer Elizabeth Picciuto lumped herself in with Jennings' critics, tweeting how the former winner's "wheelchair" tweet "leaves a bad taste in [her] mouth."

"This is super extra gross and should be completely disqualifying even for interim host," wrote @EternalNyx in response to Picciuto's tweet, adding, "The internet never forgets."

Ken Jennings' connection to the 'Bean Dad' controversy

In January 2021, Ken Jennings came under fire yet again for his tweets about his friend and "Omnibus" podcast co-host, John Roderick. 

During a since-deleted Twitter tirade that month (via Entertainment Weekly), Roderick told the tale of his "teaching moment" for his 9-year-old daughter, who was unable to open a can of beans while she was hungry. He explained that he wanted to see if she could crack open the can of beans on her own, without instructions on how to use a can opener. After the thread went viral, Roderick was ridiculed as "BeanDad" and accused of cruelty for supposedly making his daughter go six hours without eating before finally getting the can open.

To make matters worse, internet sleuths then discovered a trove of offensive tweets by Roderick, most of which seemed like ill-attempted, edgy jokes that sometimes included slurs and other derogatory language. Roderick quickly deleted, then reactivated his Twitter account, which he followed with an apology on his website. He lamented having "framed [the "Bean Dad" story] so poorly, so insensitively," and addressed his offensive tweets as "intended to be ironic, sarcastic." So why is Jennings involved? He laughed the scandal off and defended Roderick as "a loving and attentive dad who ... tells heightened-for-effect stories about his own irascibility."

But critics weren't buying that rationale. Author Ian Fortey took specific issue with Jennings' defense, tweeting, "[Roderick] also liberally sprinkles social media with racial slurs. Which is somewhere left of irascible." User @janejellyroll chimed in along the same lines, tweeting, "Hugely disappointing to see you defend a guy who has never met a slur he didn't like and thinks depriving his daughter of food is funny. It seems like you don't think anything is harmful unless it hurts you."

As of this writing, Jennings and Roderick still host "Omnibus" together, and both men still enjoy large followings on their verified Twitter accounts. 

Jennings once angered Star Wars fans with his tweets

In perhaps the cruelest tweet and incident of them all, Ken Jennings once took aim at a terminally ill "Star Wars" fan who had publicly professed his love for the movie franchise and made one final wish to see "The Force Awakens" just before dying (per IndieWire).

"It can't be a good sign that every fan who has seen the new Star Wars movie died shortly thereafter," tweeted Jennings on November 10, 2015. The post came on the very same day that "Star Wars" superfan Daniel Fleetwood, 32, had died after being allowed to see an early cut of "The Force Awakens," according to The Wrap. "Daniel put up an amazing fight to the very end," wrote Fleetwood's wife, Ashley, on Facebook. "He is now one with God and with the force."

In this case, it didn't take detractors long to skewer Jennings for the off color quip. But as with the "Jeopardy!" star's previous Twitter scandals, the controversy also continued for years. In fact, well into Jennings' run as interim host in August 2021, Twitter users were still dredging up the joke, like @WilrowHood, who called Jennings a "huge loser" and an "idiot" for the a joke that was "just awful and in no way funny."  

Jennings admits to 'screwing up' with Twitter comments

Like most of his public statements, Ken Jennings issued the apology for his Twitter actions on social media in December 2020. "I just wanted to own up to the fact that over the years on Twitter, I've definitely tweeted some unartful and insensitive things," wrote the "Jeopardy!" icon. "Sometimes they worked as jokes in my head and I was dismayed to see how they read on screen."

Jennings also addressed why he left his distasteful tweets up long after they've been the subject of outrage — "so they could be dunked on," as he put it. "At least that way they could lead to smart replies and even advocacy. Deleting them felt like whitewashing a mistake. But I think that practice may have given the impression I stand by every failed joke I've ever posted here. Not at all!" According to Jennings, it was never his "intention to hurt anyone" with what he was posting. "Sometimes I said dumb things in a dumb way and I want to apologize to people who were (rightfully!) offended," he explained. "I screwed up, and I'm truly sorry." 

Despite the apparent sincerity of his apology, Jennings' Twitter history may have disqualified him from ever being named Alex Trebek's permanent replacement. At least, that's what The Wall Street Journal reported after speaking with "people familiar with the selection process." The outlet further reported that parent company Sony TV's intended plans to slowly transition Jennings into the role were dashed after "focus groups" turned on Jennings following the Twitter scandals, and that basically put the former champ's succession plans on the back burner for good.