Friday, January 13, 2012


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!


Jerry House said...

A: Sheila Connoly

Q: Who's our next Jeopardy champion, Alex?

or will it go...

A: Our next Jeopardy champion

Q: Who is Sheila Connolly?

The only thing that had been holding you back was the thought of sharing the stage with Trbek's mustache. Now that is gone, you can skate to vistory!

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Don't worry, Sheila, in a few more years you won't even dream of competing. I forgot the name of the guy who played Captain Kirk on Star Trek the other day. Like William Shatner or hate him, there's no possible explanation for that except neurological damage due to aging. I had to google it on my iPhone--and first I had to wade through a lot of listings based on the assumption that Captain Kirk is a real person.

JJM said...

Like you, I've noticed the a lack in young contestants of knowledge considered standard in "our day", but am equally dismayed by the current skew in the answers / questions towards pop cultural literacy. I remember Jeopardy as more of an educational test than it is today: history, literature, geography, etc.
--Mario R.

Sheila Connolly said...

What, Captain Kirk isn't real?

I know what you mean, Liz. I hate knowing that I know something but I just can't get at it--until the next day. But now most people seem to whip out a SmartPhone and check immediately.

Leslie Budewitz said...

What fun! Good luck!!!

Lynn in Texas said...

Another Jeopardy lover here, and I feel the same way about all those new kids on the block! ;)

Good luck, Sheila! Would love to see you win on TV!

PS-Liz, Google has become my BFF in recent years, so don't feel alone!

Dru said...

I love Jeopardy and yes, that's me yelling at the contestants with the correct answers when they are standing there looking dumbfounded.

Good luck! I took the test a long time ago.

Julia Buckley said...

You can do it! I worked with a woman who got on the show, and we had a big party a few months later when the show aired (she said it was a secret). She won the whole week--more than 70,000 dollars.

That was back in the 80s, when 70,000 dollars was a lot of money. :)

Norma Huss said...

Another one who yells the answers while listening to Jeopardy. My husband and I do it together, and when one of us knows the answer but the other doesn't, we are properly amazed and congratulative. ESPECIALLY if that's an answer none of the contestants knew. (There's that age thing.)

Have you noticed they must have new people putting the questions together? A few times the question and answer seemed to make so little sense that all three contestents look confused by the answer. I've even heard Alex comment - maybe once - that he 'didn't know that.'

Layemdownawny said...

What fun! Good luck!!!