When I was a junior in college, all of my older sisters had moved out of our house, leaving me alone for the first time with my Mom and Dad. And after years of not being allowed to watch television during the school week (for fear that it would affect my grade point average), I finally figured out I had wiggle room to misbehave. Of course, watching a TV show like Jeopardy is hardly rebelling, but to me, it was dissent enough, with the bonus of giving me a daily dose of peaceful stimulus at dinnertime. It was, after all, my second to last year in High School, and between SAT preparations, intense sports commitments, and no idea where I wanted to go to college, I often needed a mental break.
I have a vague memory of putting the show on one day as we sat over a meal my mother begrudgingly made (she hated to cook, and still does), and see if they would object to having the television on. Click! The TV lit up, Jeopardy was tuned in, and no one said anything otherwise. Maybe they needed the break too.
For two years, my parents and I watched together with me shouting out every answer I thought was even remotely right. It was the bonding experience of our abridged family, where we enjoyed each other’s trivia skills as we ate dinner. I was the happiest of all. After a childhood of strict television rules, I was finally able to avoid the laws at a time when I needed it the most.
Fast forward to today. I still watch Jeopardy almost every day at mealtime, though now it’s through our pre-recorded DVR. I’m determined never to miss one. I am also a lot better, not only because of all the years of absorbing new information since High School, but because I’ve gotten to know the show, its writers, and topics through being an avid watcher. Like the New York Times Crossword puzzle, you get to know the themes, the personality behind a lot of the subjects, and even the go-to questions when they seem to run out of answers to ask. It’s how I always know to shout “War and Peace,” if there’s a mention of long novels. Or how often they refer to the Turner rebellion in a category about U.S. History. Or this tidbit: Paul Revere was also a silversmith. When you watch often enough, you learn more trivia, but surprisingly, you learn a lot about where your knowledge is lacking.
For instance, if I were ever to go on the show, I’d need to know a heck of a lot more about geography – a subject I am utterly terrible at. My understanding of the world’s rivers has only recently improved, but give me a question on a country in South East Asia and pretty much all is lost. I’d also need to brush up on my poetry and Shakespeare. I know enough to get by, but considering how few poets are actually mentioned on Jeopardy, I should know the difference between William Wordsworth and Dylan Thomas by now (I don’t). Likewise, I should remember that Thomas Paine always wrote the most opinionated pieces of early American history. A fact that I forgot as recently as two days ago (Jeopardy writers love Paine, LOL). And a sports category? Well, I might as well pack up and go home all together!
But all this wouldn’t be as enjoyable if it wasn’t for the spunky, Jeopardy elder that is Alex Trebek. He never lets you forget he’s Canadian and is often more fun to watch than the contestants, given his subtle insults and hilarious judgments. While he’s been a little tamer as of late, a year ago his lousy mood would often emerge as he lobbed such delicate insults as, “We’re heading into Double Jeopardy with Sarah in a distant third!” Ouch. Or a few months ago when he told the reigning champion that she was “weird.” He’s usually not that overt, but it’s always fascinating how he has the gumption to throw a particular kind of Trebek comment into his television show.
And wouldn’t you know it, I’ve actually been on the set of Jeopardy before! When I interned for a small film division at Sony Pictures in Los Angeles, every intern was required to take the “Studio Tour,” which consisted of a walking tour they give visitors of the premises. While the actual space was a bit of a letdown (the set looks a lot weirder in person), I did learn that three episodes are filmed in a day, with each contestant bringing multiple outfits to wear for each round (if they win). Also, episode champions only have about an hour between winning one game and going onto the next. It kind of makes sense how people tend to be more relaxed on their “second day” of winning – it’s only about an hour later that they’re back in the hot seat. Subsequently, it’s no surprise that some champions also choke on the next round – their brainpower has been all used up.
Lately, one of my favorite things about Jeopardy is the subtle way they’ve incorporated relevant political topics into the fabric of the show. Given that it is incredibly fact-based, they throw in their own stronghold opinions to battle the proliferation of misinformation and “fake news” (an actual category they had recently). They also had categories titled “Impeachment,” “Russian Collusion,” and when I had just heard about the famous Pee Tape, there was a suspicious category titled “Shades of Yellow.” I thought it was a coincidence, but alas, it was just the first time I noticed the shows own attempt at resisting the grotesque political environment. It made me love it a little more!
As is the case with most things I enjoy, I like Jeopardy because I’m good at it. My educated guesses tend to be right, my random retention of what Jon calls “useless facts” is actually put to use, and I love the challenge of recalling through the depths of memory that one book I read all the way back in middle school (The House on Mango Street, for example). It’s like witnessing the accumulation of all your knowledge, travels and culture in one place. You can look down at the big pile of information and say, “look at all that I’ve learned, and all that I know!” And when I get to the end of Final Jeopardy with the right answer on my tongue, that seems to be the greatest gift of all.
Do you watch Jeopardy or any other game shows? Share your favorites with me in the comments below! Also be sure to check out my absolutely favorite SNL Celebrity Jeopardy spoof here!