by Sheila Connolly
I'm going to take the online Jeopardy test next week. For the third time.
The first time I was actually called for the second, live round—and never heard from them after it. (Was it something I said? I didn't say? Did I smile too much? Not enough?) The second time I took the test I was suffering from brain freeze, and couldn't manage to answer questions that I knew I knew the answer for. Curiously, a lot of the questions come from recent shows, so if you watch the show regularly, as I do, you know you've already heard the answer—as long as you can find it in the increasingly crowded database that is your mind.
I know I'm not alone in my addiction to the show. Jeopardy has been syndicated since 1984, and now averages nine million daily viewers; its website receives nearly 400,000 visitors each month.
My husband and I have been watching Jeopardy most of our lives together. When our daughter was young (and she's only a year younger than the show), we would watch it over dinner. Bad for the digestion, maybe, but we liked to think that she was learning something. Since she graduated from a renowned college with a comparative literature degree, maybe it worked (or maybe it's all in the genes?). Now she knows as many of the answers as we do.
But lately I've noticed a few things about the show. For one thing, the contestants seem to be getting younger (seen any septuagenarians on there lately? Well, except for host Alex Trebek, born in 1940), and there are some new categories that refer to contemporary music or video games, where I'll admit I know next to nothing, unless the answer is "who is Lady Gaga?" because she is impossible to not know. But what troubles me most is that in some ways the questions are not getting younger. There is still a bias toward classic literature, nineteenth century poetry, popular phrases from bygone days, ancient history or even 20th century events. An answer will appear, and all three contestants will freeze like deer in the headlights, obviously at a loss. I will be yelling the answer at them (yes, I know they can't hear me), and then the buzzer will sound and Alex, with infinite kindness and a touch of pity, will gently point out their stupidity.
And then I realize that the contestants likely weren't even born when some of those clues were current, or at least still taught in school. And that makes me feel old. Never mind that that kind of information does no more than clutter my overloaded brain (with the exception of geography, which continues to elude me unless I've physically visited the place in question; oh, and US Presidents—I just can't keep them straight); there is no way younger contestants can memorize all the slang expressions and headline news of half a century or more ago.
I remember years ago reading some of the Golden Age English mysteries, featuring bright young things from Oxford and Cambridge, and marveling at the depth and breadth of their education. If those novels are to be believed, those students could call up verbatim citations at the drop of the hat—in three languages, including ancient Greek. Did such paragons ever exist? But now I feel that I stand in the same position vis a vis the current crop of Jeopardy contestants, whose education is sometimes deficient—not their intelligence, but their knowledge.
At any rate, I assume there will be no major change in Jeopardy clues before next week's test, so perhaps my older wisdom (and mental trunk full of trivia) will prevail. Wish me luck!