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Let's Play Armchair Jeopardy!

I love Jeopardy!. For purposes of time, I’m not going to list why, since they’d likely be the same reasons you love it (or conversely hate it, often they are the same list of things depending on what you see as fun and entertaining).

And, as many of us who love the show and religiously (or at least, routinely) watch it often think, “I’m pretty good at this, I bet I’d be darn competitive if I were up there,”

Now, I can’t speak for you, but for the record, I’m not (pretty good at it) … and I couldn’t (be competitive).

In my own “jeopardized” head, I’d like to think I’d be smart enough and quick enough to compete with Ariel Singh, a Ph.D. student from Connecticut (read: “Harvard); Don Haley, a tech analyst from Monterey (who as a six-grader, made it to the finals of the 1994 Scripps-Howard Spelling Bee); and our returning champion, a freelance writer from Seattle, Martine St. Martin (her name alone smells of intelligence), whose four-day cash winnings total $102,415!

But I wouldn’t, and I’m OK with that … sort of.

Jeopardy!, and more specifically, winning Jeopardy!, consists of several factors, all coming together in one person, in one place at one time. First, you need a broad base of factual knowledge. In other words, you don’t need to know a lot about a few subjects; you need to know something about a million subjects.

Much of the time, I check that box, and some days, I truly impress myself (and even Joan now and again) with some of the correct answers I come up with (formed, of course, as questions). Then, ultimately, we (and I’m grouping myself in with Ariel, Don and Martine on this) trip on a category of which we know little. For me, think categories like Shakespeare, World Leaders, Victorian Fashion Terms, or Dial “A” for Astrophysics (where all the responses begin with the letter “A”). Thing is, they (the real contestants) all have at least a passing knowledge of these obscure, brainy and might add, arrogant topics. I know zero about each.

It’s those categories, among others, that knock me down a peg after I’ve run the table on One-Hit Wonders, Obscure Sports Nicknames and Andy, Opie & Barney (with all responses referring to “The Andy Griffith Show”).

See the difference in my shallow pool of knowledge vs. those of Ariel, Don and Martine?

Then, there’s timing. I hesitate to use the term “speed” because it appears that no one can “buzz in” until after the host (RIP Alex Trebek; always in our hearts) has finished reading the clue. That said, I believe there’s some art or skill to hitting the button at just the right instance after the clue has been read. (Not doubt, those who become champions study this and practice for weeks to give them an “athletic edge” prior to their appearance.)

I mean, how often have you seen a contestant struggling to activate their buzzer (I don’t think an actual buzzer has been used since 1966, but I’m old school), only to have someone else sneak in and steal their correct response -- and their $1,600 – right out from under their nose … or thumb as the case may be?

Side note: if you wanted to “rig” the game, the buzzer/button would be the obvious method, right? Just sayin’ …

A third factor is confidence. It’s easy to sit on the couch, rattling off wrong answer after wrong answer (under your breath so no one else realizes how stupid you are), and then, when you finally nail a couple in a row (which you shout at the TV so everyone can hear), proclaim, “I wish I was on today; I’d be KILLING it!”

But what if you were in the studio, with a live audience, lights, cameras and a worldwide audience of millions, people like me, all barking at the TV, calling you an idiot because you didn’t know the one answer I did know:

Host: I was the quiet, keyboard-playing Captain in Captain & Tennille, but what was my real name?

Me: What is Daryl Dragon.

Don: What is Neil Sedaka?

Host: Sorry.

Ariel: What is Barry Manilow?

Host: No.

Martine: (Does not respond.)

Host: What is … Daryl Dragon

Me: You idiots!! How can you NOT know that?!

Are you ready to be on the other end of that exchange? I’m not, and if you need another reason, here’s one.

Everyone knows if you make the show, you need to host a “watch party” for your episode, and even if you don’t, you know a bunch of family and friends are going to tune in. So, if you look like an idiot (and there are so many ways to look like an idiot on Jeopardy!), you’ll have to endure all those uncomfortable, sympathetic comments:

It wasn’t that bad … you got three correct in that one category, wasn’t it “Processed Snack Foods”? Oh, wait it was only two? Well … anyway … I mean, that’s pretty good …

I think you would have won if your button would have been working properly.

Who wants to stick around for Final Jeopardy! anyway? The category is always something like “Shakespeare” or “World Leaders.” It’s probably for the best you ended up at -$1,000 after Double Jeopardy!

If you ask me, it’s an accomplishment just to make it on the show.

See my point?

Jeopardy! and I go way back, back to my childhood when my mom and I would watch Art Fleming (the original host) quiz the Ariels, Dons and Martines of yesteryear on our black-and-white TV. (I’m that old.)

And while I love the game, and I’ve always wanted to be on a game show (though my dream was as a host, not a contestant), I don’t think I’m Jeopardy! material, and I’m OK with that, as tough as it has been to admit. Now that I’ve come clean with myself and the world, I can feel comfortable in my stupidity. And, I can feel something I haven’t felt in a long, long time. Let me couch it in the form of a Jeopardy! clue and response:

Host: According to a Kris Kristofferson song made a hit by Janis Joplin, it’s “Just another word for nuthin’ left to lose.”

Me: What is …

… freedom?

© 2021 David R. Haznaw

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