It would be difficult to find anyone in the world (with access to television) who has not heard of the game show “Jeopardy.” This show has been on the air for almost 30 years and has been watched by well over nine million viewers in 90 countries.
Not only have I heard of it, I’ve also watched it regularly, and at times I can say aloud the correct answer even before the contestants press the buzzer. Jeopardy is “America’s favorite quiz show,” and is enjoyed worldwide.
In the Philippines in the mid-1990s, Inquirer editors and staff would pause and match wits to answer the questions and the final jeopardy. So, armed with this confidence, I made a reservation to watch the show live, with a friend, Josie Roberts, a retired schoolteacher.
I learned that five shows are taped in a day, split between morning and afternoon at Sony Studios in Culver City, California. People from all over, of different ages, genders and abilities, come to watch the taping. The day I watched, there were more than 100 of us.
Before the show starts, announcer Johnny Gilbert “preps” or prepares the audience, encouraging audience participation by applauding contestants who answer correctly the whole category, and who identify and give the right answer to the daily double and final jeopardy. The applause is recorded live, and that’s what’s heard during the show.
Learning is fun
“Jeopardy” makes learning fun, and motivates people to accumulate bits of information, whether trivial, historical or popular. A team of eight writers and six researchers crafts creative clues and categories, creating a wide database of materials. Under the watchful eyes of judges, there is minimal opportunity to cheat. If a member of the audience uncontrollably shouts the answer, the taping is stopped and the question is thrown out. In 28 years, some keep a keen eye on the clues and comment that these have appeared in previous episodes. Gilbert explains that some questions may appear similar, but the responses are different.
When he says his introductory spiel —“and here’s the host of ‘Jeopardy,’ Alex Trebek…”—the 72-year-old, 5’ 8” Alex, who has dual citizenship (Canadian and American), appears onstage in a shiny suit and tie, every strand of his grayish white hair neatly in place.
Alex has a fixed smile and a calm, measured voice that’s pleasing to the ear. Still, he doesn’t immediately exude warmth and approachability. But Alex has an unmistakable air of silent authority, and given his philosophy and media communications background, comes across as a trusted, reliable and wise source, who takes work—but not himself—seriously.
There is no denying Alex’s masterful pronunciation of clues and foreign words. He chats with the contestants, making them feel at ease. He was even humming a tune for all to hear during the break.
During station breaks, there is an Ask Alex portion, where members of the audience get to ask Alex questions.
1. Do you choose your own wardrobe?
Yes. Alex said that he doesn’t really repeat for years.
2. How many languages do you speak?
Many. Alex mentioned English, French, German, some Spanish, Russian and Italian.
I asked, “What were your favorite moments on the show?” Alex thought for a moment and responded, “Seeing the tears in the parents’ eyes as they express how proud they are of their children. Saying goodbye to Ken Jennings, the record holder of the longest winning streak at 74. Then, there was the episode with Watson.”
It was a cutting-edge, humans vs computer episode. Watson, the contestant, was the IBM Deep QA artificial intelligence computer able to access 200 million pages of structured and unstructured information, including the full text on Wikipedia amounting to 4 terabytes. Pitted against him were Jennings and Brad Rutter, the biggest all-time money winner in the show.
As a follow-up, I asked if the show “Jeopardy” would consider a tournament involving contestants from different faiths and religions. It could be a small step to peaceful, nonviolent dialogue and a means for conflict easing and resolution in the world today. Trebek, who received a Jesuit education in his early years till age 12 and was a high-school graduate of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) or University of Ottawa, responded with a firm “no.”
He shook his head, and cited differences in the interpretation of the Bible and no clear authorized accepted version for all. There is more room for dissent, and could even lead to World War III. “No, we don’t want to be in that ‘Jeopardy.’”
Getting the answer right
Picture it: Contestants are stumped by a question or two (or three or four). But you know the answer, and your answer is correct. What a thrill! And that happened. It was a visual clue in landmarks and buildings category, Alex said, “The Japanese beer company whose head office is seen here.” The answer just popped into my mind, even if I’ve never tasted that five-letter brand of lager. I thought to myself, my former editorial coworkers may chuckle at this.
After a raffle for lucky studio winners of electronic Jeopardy games, the show was nearing its end. Alex addressed the crowd with a sincere “Thank you, for choosing to spend your afternoon with us.” Alex Trebek and “Jeopardy” will certainly continue as a pair with enduring likability.