Wednesday, August 26, 2009

33. Jeopardy!

I'm not even going to get into the bullshit apology about not doing an update to my top 56 in some time. It will be insincere and shallow and the truth is, I've been really busy lately. But I am going to try to do at least one of these a week for the foreseeable future.*

* The truth is, no one really has been banging down my door asking about the next entry, so I'm not sure why I got all pissed off in that last paragraph. Maybe I'm mad at myself for waiting too long to write another entry or maybe I just wanted an interesting way to open this entry.

Putting a game show on your list of favorite TV shows is tough because by the very nature of it, a game show is something different episode after episode. One of the things that I talk about most with my favorite shows are the characters or the stories. Usually the characters and types of stories stay constant, in other words, Jerry Seinfeld isn't battling space pirates one week and operating on Newman the next. When you turn on one of your favorite shows, you know what you're going to get.

Not so with game shows.

About the only consistent thing is the host and most of them are bland blank slates who act as ciphers for the contestants. Even one of the all time greats like Bob Barker would sit back and let the contestants do all of the heavy lifting. Ever see him freak out when someone one double Show Case Showdowns? Nope. Because he knows that tomorrow he'll be doing the same dance with the same corn-fed hick from Nebraska or one of the idiot brothers from Tappa Kega Day. It seems to me that being a game show host is the modern day equivalent of Sisyphus except instead of dealing with a rock and a hill, you have to interact with the American public.

My point? I like Jeopardy a lot because of it is different every day. There are different contestants (that seem to be intelligent) and different questions and different strategies. This is literally one of my favorite primal scream shows. What's a primal scream show? Easy, it's a television show (for me, it's mostly a sporting event) where you vent your frustrations on the person/people that are currently on the tube.

I am like a drunken Oakland Raider fan with Turret's Syndrome when I watch this show. I don't get angry when people don't know the answers to the questions—hey, they're tough questions, which is another reason why I like the show. What gets me angry is that these people are so smart but have such little confidence in themselves.

Next time you watch and it's a tight game, check out the bets of the people. They're usually very small. What they're saying is that they don't have the confidence in themselves to win the pot and they're hoping that someone will lose. Basically the thought is this, “If I risk less money than Player A and Player B, and they don't know the answer as well, I'll win.” More often than not, this philosophy kills the conservative player.

Legendary Jeopardy contestant Ken Jennings, who won an amazing 74 straight shows in 2004, not because he was smarter than 148 different people it's because he was aggressive with his bets. Ultimately he bet on himself and it paid off big time.

This isn't to suggest that the “Go Big or Go Home!” type of philosophy is infallible. Sometimes you get stuck with the “17th Century Opera Directors” category and no matter how much bluster you can muster, if you don't know the answer, you don't know the answer. But, I'd have to imagine that a majority of the contestants on this show have enough knowledge to wager on themselves a bit more than they do now. You are literally playing with house money and the third-place contestant walks away with $1000 and the second-place contestant gets $2000. I have seen episodes when the “winner” has a $500 pot, meaning that the third-place contestant goes home with more cash in their pocket.

BTW, the image above is from the "Jeopardy!" slot machine that are in hotels all over Las Vegas and Atlantic City. The irony of having a slot machine juxtaposed with "Jeopardy!" is so great that I'm not even going to list the reasons. You all are smart enough (you're reading my Blog, of course you are), so you can make a list yourself.

The one thing that I don't particularly love is the show's one constant, Alex Trebek. I can't tell whether Trebek is a nice guy or a douche. I would probably lean towards the former because he's had fun with his image on “Cheers”, “The Simpsons” and “Saturday Night Live”. This leads me to believe that if he was half the jerk on the show as he is in real-life, he wouldn't lend himself to those things.

Having said that, on the show he is so pompous and awkward—which is a very strange combination that not too many people can pull off.

The pomposity comes with “knowing” more than the contestants. Of course, it's easy to “know” more than the contestants when you're holding the answers, aren't on television for the first time and aren't risking money.

“Sorry. The answer we were looking for was stalagmites. Not stalagtites. Big difference.”

From his cadence (a sing-song whisper, sort of like how you pay your respects to a family member at a funeral) to his faint Canadian accent (those bastards are supposed to be friendly!) to that little noise he makes before giving the answer (it's like he's sucking a small bit of spit through his teeth) Trebek is a subtle ball-buster. And one that you really can't call out, which I'm sure makes it more infuriating for the contestant.

This would be the scene at my house, if I was watching myself on TV:

Trebek: “No. Sorry. We were looking for the Hubble Telescope.”
Me (watching TV): “There! Did you see that! What an asshole!”
Aly (watching with me): “He said that you were wrong, and you were!”
Me: “No. That's not the point, he did that sucking sound. He thinks he's better than me!”
Aly: “He didn't do that. You're mad because you got that wrong.”
Me: “No I'm not! He's mocking me! MOCKING ME!”
Aly: “I'm going to bed.”

Don't even get me started about the unpardonable sin of not answering in the form of a question. Trebek does not like this move at all and will bring the wrath of Merv Griffin down on anyone who is unfortunate enough to forget the game's quirk.

But for all of his superiority, the dude can not make small talk with the contestants. At all. I understand that most of these people aren't the lives of the party, but Trebek has been doing this show for some time. He has to have figured out how to get the turtle out of its shell. Each interview is always the same thing:

Trebek (reading off the card*): “Uhm, says here that you like to pick lint from your navel and examine it through a high powered microscope?”
Contestant: “Yeah. That's right Alex. Lots of fascinating things to find in lint!”
Trebek: “That's one hobby that won't go belly up!”

The little pun or joke at the end usually confuses the contestant or makes them so uncomfortable that they either laugh like a moron or grin like a buffoon.

* The reading off the card thing is a complete dick move. All he has to do is make 20 seconds of small talk with these people. He doesn't have the time to memorize one fact about each person? Come on, this is simple and it would be a nice gesture to make these people feel like human beings. God, that really pisses me off about Trebek.

And to top it off, he shaved off his iconic mustache. What kind of self-respecting Canadian shaves off his mustache? Next thing you know he'll hate hockey, socialized medicine and Celine Dion. It really bugged me that he shaved off his mustache, much like when I was a kid and my dad shaved off his 'stache. I don't think that I have daddy issues with Alex Trebek, but both Mike Magrane and Trebek need the soup strainer. It's who they are.

So essentially this show is a complete 180 of anything that I like from the rest of this list and the show's host gives me anxiety. Why wouldn't this be one of my favorites?*

* And yes, that ending line was placed in the form of a question on purpose.

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