Don't cry for Ken Jennings: The 31-year-old Utah trivia whiz did not win the $2 million jackpot in this week's three-day "Ultimate Jeopardy" match, but he still managed to pocket $500,000 by coming in second.

With the $2.5 million he won last year, Jennings' total "Jeopardy!" winnings are over $3 million.

The "Jeopardy!" champ was felled Wednesday night by brainy — and quick-with-his-thumb — opponent Brad Rutter, of Lancaster, Penn. Rutter won the $2 million prize in the sweeps-stunt show, which, added to his earlier winnings, also gives him just over $3 million.

Third-place winner Jerome Vered, of Los Angeles, went home Wednesday with $250,000.

Of course, whether the record books will allow these total earnings to possibly change Jennings' status as the biggest game-show money-winner for his 74-show run last year, or keep this trio of "special" episodes in a separate category, remains to be seen. At the end of Wednesday's show, host Alex Trebek pronounced Rutter the all-time champ (with "Jeopardy!" winnings totalling $3,155,102) and Jennings a close second (at $3,020,700).

When he could see that Rutter was going to win, Jennings wrote "Go Brad" as part of his "Final Jeopardy" answer.

Jennings says he has no regrets.

"This was totally unlooked for," he said of his unexpected celebrity. "Even when the 'Jeopardy!' thing happened," he told the Deseret Morning News, "I was just patiently waiting for the whole thing to die out while I was just living a quiet life at my home in Murray."

These days the former Murray software engineer has plenty of irons in the fire — chiefly a deal with the cable channel Comedy Central to develop a TV game show and a board game that will be in stores this week. He's also writing a book about trivia.

Speaking by phone from his Manhattan hotel room, Jennings said he has been in New York this week doing publicity for "Jeopardy!" and his board game, as well as discussing the Comedy Central show with "TV people."

He said he's spent the past few months doing TV commercials for Cingular cell phones and promotions for Federal Express and H&R Block (both of which figured in the "Final Jeopardy" question he missed last November, knocking him off the show).

"Nothing new on that front," he said, adding that he's also on the speaker circuit, traveling around the country addressing college students and corporate functions.

Whew.

One reason for all the activity is that Jennings doesn't want to miss anything.

"This is the kind of thing that only hits once. I know it's going to be temporary, and I don't want to look back and say, 'Wow I should have done that.' "

The board game is "Can You Beat Ken?" "It's just fun to see your picture on a board game," he said.

The idea is to see who can first reach $2 1/2 million (the amount Jennings won on "Jeopardy!" last year), answering trivia questions about history, sports, science, contemporary music, etc., along the way.

"Players match wits with a cardboard Ken Jennings token that you can move around the board," Jennings said. "I had to answer the questions in the game (1,200 of them), and the players go up against my answers."

The board game is scheduled for release on Friday, but Jennings said, "People have been telling me they've seen it in store shelves."

As for the Comedy Central TV show, Jennings said it's still in the planning stages but should be on the air in early 2006. "I don't know if I'll be hosting the show, but I'll be participating in the game to some degree. It won't just be a 'Beat the Geeks' show, or whatever, but it will have contestants playing against the house."

He added that since Comedy Central is a comedy channel, and its previous game show, "Win Ben Stein's Money," featured Stein with comic Jimmy Kimmel, "My guess is there'll be another host, more of a comedian type, but as with 'Win Ben Stein's Money,' it will be a pretty straight game show."

Still, the idea of being a daily television celebrity gives him pause. "I sort of shudder a little about that association, but I've loved game shows my whole life."

And he likes that they're also family-friendly. "That's sort of a beautiful thing about game shows. It's not like watching people eat maggots on some show. There's a place for greater knowledge and greater learning."

Of all these projects, however, Jennings seems most excited about the book he's writing for Random House. "It's about the world of trivia and the people who like to play it. I've spent that last few months wading into the world of trivia, and it's been fascinating to see all the things that are going on out there that I knew nothing about.

"There will be a narrative structure about my weird adventures (on 'Jeopardy!'), and that will be a launching-off point to talk about why people love trivia and why it's gone beyond a fad to a phenomenon. It's gone way beyond the 'Trivial Pursuit' craze of the '80s."

Jennings said he has discovered a real love of writing, and he wouldn't mind being able to write for a living.

"That would be sort of fun. That was the big thing. The TV or whatever is fun, but the book is kind of a lifelong dream fulfilled."


E-mail: hicks@desnews.com