In all my years of writing about TV, I've never confessed the show I've been watching for the longest time ---- Jeopardy! I've been watching it regularly since 1991 and have been playing along at home since I was 14. Growing up in my house, Jeopardy was the closest thing I had to a religion. I remember back to when there were only parting gifts for second and third place finishers, when the Tournament of Champions paid out only a $100,000, and who can believe all too easily that SNL's parodies of Celebrity Tournaments gave the stars, if anything, too much credit.
There are many, many things I can say about this show, but the one I'm going to discuss is about a Tournament that they had in their earlier seasons--- the Seniors Tournament. After Alex Trebek noted that, traditionally, contestants in their fifties performed badly compared to younger competitors, they arranged a tournament for contestant in that age group, with categories that were more geared towards them--- such as The Big Band Era or Old Radio Shows. The Senior, by and large, acquitted themselves admirably, and were often formidable competitors in the Tournament of Champions. (One, Marilyn Kneeland, made it all the way to finals in the 1993 Tournament.) Yet despite this, around 1996, the Seniors Tournament was discontinued. No official reason was given, but my guess is that Jeopardy was trying to skew towards a younger demographic even then. Since then, they have had many others tournaments, but none geared towards seniors.
Jeopardy is celebrating it's thirtieth season, and as it did in it's tenth and twentieth has been celebrating it with a special tournament--- the Battle of the Decades. Fifteen champions from each of the shows first thirty years--- 1984 to 1993, 1994 to 2003, and 2004 to 2013--- will compete against each other for an eventual $1 million dollar pay off. These kinds of tournaments give me an extra thrill, because, for me, at least, these games are a real celebrity tournament. Many of the people who compete in these tournaments have become very successful in life because they did well on Jeopardy! Several have written books about their experiences trying to help other people duplicate their success, and watching them play at the game they mastered, would be like going to Fenway Park and seeing Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker demonstrating to those 'whipper snappers', that they haven't lost the touch.
This week, the contestants all represented the 1980's--- which meant that the average age of the contestant would be between 50 and 60. Two questions filled my mind before the tournament began? Would these 'old farts' be able to demonstrate they still had the intellect and reflexes to play this game after a long hiatus? And would the show's writers, who have been alleviating the level of the questions in recent seasons, be capable of writing question difficult enough to be worthy of them? The answer is... Yes, to both.
As I said, before I have been watching Jeopardy for over twenty years, and by now have, like doubtless many other viewers, very familiar with the typical caliber of the answers and questions they have made. I have been averaged between $25,000 and $30,000 a game for the past three years, and on an average week, I can get four out of five Final Jeopardys correctly.
Not this week. Competitors like Chuck Forrest and Frank Spangenberg basically left me in the dirt screaming for mercy, breezing their way through categories such as Latin, Song of the Year (songs with years in the title) The Country Directly South, Run EMC---- a category completely devoted to the famous equation. One competitor, Leszek Pawlowicz, wagered $10,000 on a Daily Double in that category--- and had no problems in answering it. Even categories where I've done well in the past, like President and First Ladies, categories I thought I had memorized by now, were my complete undoing. I didn't know who was the only President to marry a woman of European Descent (John Quincy Adams) or the man who switched job with Vladimir Putin in 2012.. Of the five games that I played this week, I would only won one of them, and I only managed to get one Final Jeopardy correct.
After this week, all I can say is... Bravo, to both the shows writers for coming up with such brilliant questions, and to the contestants for demonstrating impressive skills after being absent from the games for so long. The five competitors who went to the next round (which will air in May) all had two things in common--- they were far older than the average Jeopardy champion, and they had all won the Tournament of Champions. In order, they were:
Chuck Forrest, winner of the 1986 TOC.
Leszek Pawlowicz, winner in 1992 TOC
Tom Nosek, winner in 1993.
Mark Lowenthal, winner in 1988,
and Tom Cubbage, winner in 1990.
Will these Five Old Men do as well in the next round? It's hard to say. In the last major Jeopardy tournament, The Ultimate Tournament of Champions, none of them got out of the first round. But one thing I have noticed in my years of watching Jeopardy, and these kinds of tournaments, is that the race is not always the swiftest and the youngest. Many of the more successful players in that tournament were in their fifties or older. And having watched them in this wrong, these guys haven't forgotten any of the knowledge they had in their old games.
I'll keep you appraised of this in March, when competitors from Jeopardy's second decade, go for the glory. Little advice, (as if they needed to be reminded)ladies and gentlemen--- study. This will give you a brain ache, no question.