June 03, 2014
“I stand to win a great deal of money in a game show that will never be invented,” Dick Cavett said somewhere, reflecting on his rare and unprofitable ability to ad-lib rhyming couplets in iambic pentameter.
I, on the other hand, am one of those bores without number who’s convinced I could clean up on Jeopardy! based solely on my talent for shouting the correct answers at my TV, punctuated with the phrases “Hurry up!” and “You moron!”
As anyone who’s played Jeopardy! for real and won (or lost) will tell you, a game that seems like a cinch to any over-read geek playing on his sofa is a far more challenging competition when you”re sharing a bright, hot television studio with an audience, a host, two other contestants”and that damn buzzer.
The show’s longest-reigning champion, Ken Jennings, calls the buzzer “a cruel mistress.” You see, you have to wait until host Alex Trebek has completely finished reading the clue before you hit the button. Do so one half-second too early, or too late, and you lose your chance to answer. Whereas I read the clues very quickly”my eyes “swallow” those chunks of text whole”so I always start screaming, “What is Twelfth Night?!!?”” before he’s halfway through.
Except I never phrase my answer in the form of a question, because it feels so corny and besides, I hate rules. Then there’s the betting. I may be able to sweep most non-sports-related categories on Jeopardy!, but I still can”t figure out how contestants manage to calculate their wagers, especially when they win by exactly one dollar”that little flourish that distinguishes a true champ.
I know: it’s because I”m a girl. In fact, being a girl is supposedly one of the biggest handicaps for any Jeopardy! contestant.
Even devoted fans of the show have complained for some time that a) there aren”t enough women contestants, b) there haven”t been enough female winners, c) the questions are “gendered” (this “boomer-feminist” analyzed over 1000 questions to prove it), and d) Alex Trebek is a condescending sexist pig.
These issues are being raised once again because, as I write this, Julia Collins has won 18 games in a row, raking in U.S. $391,000. That’s the third longest winning streak in the show’s history. (Ten years after his appearance, Jennings still tops the list at a staggering 74 consecutive wins.)
To no one’s surprise, Collins” triumph has led some feminists to whinge about all the other women who”ve failed to make it this far during the show’s multigenerational run. Others have countered that women are doing much better on Jeopardy! of late. Either way, the experiences of a tiny number of females are once again being imbued with Some Kind of Meaning.