As it celebrates its 35th anniversary, I figured it was time to write about my favorite TV quiz show. The one whose questions are in the form of answers, and contestants are required to state their answers in the form of a question.
Yes … What is Jeopardy?
Disclaimer: I am probably among the WORST Jeopardy players of all time. And I’m not being modest. Just ask my family.
Even from the comfort of my living room, I don’t have the type of brain that retains trivia. Facts and figures, names, places fall in and out of my head.
As I watch Jeopardy, I often sit there with my jaw dropped, not too many answers (in the form of questions) coming out of my mouth.
So why have I DVR’d and watched it every night for years now? (What is … masochism?)
Well, it’s not to get noticeably smarter, not in Jeopardy terms anyway. Because I still can’t fathom how contestants know which King Edward (the second, the third, the eighth) reigned centuries ago. I don’t even understand some of the categories, like ‘Those Darn Etruscans’. Even as an English major, I still struggle each time with the difference between homophones, homonyms and the like. And anagrams just drive me crazy – they are so crazy hard!
More true confessions … I often don’t know the difference between far-off countries, continents and cities … and I certainly don’t know their capitals or the rivers that run through them, languages they speak or people who rule them. My only hope once in a while is when I shout out ‘The Ottoman Empire‘, which I somehow retained from middle school, in name anyway.
I watch, I think, to marvel (much as host Alex Trebek often does) at the sheer genius of some of these people.
Besides having what I assume are photographic memories, they seem to know everything about everything – from every capital of every city around the world, to esoteric literature and poetry, to all elements on the Periodic Table (and their symbols). From opera, to pop culture that includes the most current hip hop and rap stars. And then there are Nobel Prize winners, past US presidents I didn’t even know were presidents, Greek mythology, Shakespeare, the Balkan Nations and 12th century trivia.
Not only that, these people are on TV, under the spotlight, buzzing in quickly to beat their opponents and putting their answer in the form of a question, no less! What is … amazing? (I’m not sure I could tell you my middle name under that kind of pressure!)
So I watch in amazement and, like my mom (mom and dad are also religious Jeopardy viewers), love to see and critique the contestants. I’m just super interested in where they’re from (we’ve had some ‘hometown’ NY heroes), what they do (everything from bartending to teaching to stay-at-home parenting). My kids get kind of annoyed – but know the deal. If they’re handling the remote, they need to make sure we catch every second of the people’s short, upfront ‘stories’.
Because even those life stories are often super impressive. While some are more mundane (like ‘how I met my spouse‘), many are things like when they backpacked across the Himalayas, had wild adventures with gorillas in the Amazon, koala bears in Australia. Taught in the Far East. You name it.
Longtime host Alex Trebek, being quite the globe trotter himself, will often say things like, ‘But did you get to visit the Parthenon?‘ Alex, by the way, is also a big part of the personality of the show that draws so many of us in. He’s seemingly snobby at times, especially about his proud Canadian roots, or if someone has the rare, really ‘off’ answer. But, at the same time, he’s personable, fun-loving, even self-deprecating at times.
A lot of us ‘Jeopardy geeks’ are also pretty particular about who we root for. A coworker of mine (also named Alex) will never root for someone who holds their ‘signaling device’ up in the air. I favor contestants who say ‘please‘ when they ask Alex for the clue. Jamie hates the contestants who ‘jump around the board’ looking for the special ‘Double Jeopardy‘ spaces where they can win bigger money, instead of playing them in money order. We all have our ‘schtik’.
So while I can still relate to the old Sam Cooke song – ‘Don’t know much about history. Don’t know much of biology …‘ I do know I love the show Jeopardy. And will continue to watch, root for my favorites and marvel at the people.
As far as us ‘mere mortals’ keeping our self-esteem intact, I remind myself that I have other forms of intelligence – emotional, conceptual. And I’ve even run certain categories in my day, mainly having to do with language or music. My mom says it makes her ‘feel smarter’ to watch Wheel of Fortune, which immediately follows Jeopardy and is considerably more mainstream in terms of its topics and requirements. Not a bad answer!
I dedicate this blog to my friend and coworker Avi, who kept on me to finally write and publish it. Thanks Avi!