September 30, 2004

Take One

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Today is my 21st birthday, and lots of things have changed in my life through the years. Nevertheless, through it all, there remain ageless constants — the sun rises and sets every day, we eat and sleep every day, people get sick every day, we shower at least every other day, and now, Ken Jennings remains Jeopardy! king — every single day. TV Guide named Jeopardy! the second greatest game show of all time, behind The Price is Right. But that was before Ken Jen arrived to reenergize the fast-paced quiz show. Ken has rapidly become a TV ratings phenomenon. I make sure to watch each evening at 7:30 to see if maybe, just maybe, this could be the day he loses. Obviously, that never happens, but of course, I don”t really want it to happen. Day in and day out, Jennings rolls through his competition like the relentless Mormon force that he is. And it”s all but certain that he will go down as the greatest game show contestant of all time (is there even such a list?).

Ken is part of the American TV family now, and he”s more real than anyone on reality television shows. I mean, I feel like I know everything about him (this isn”t just me, right?). Part of Ken Jen”s appeal is that he knows how to entertain us, and especially Alex Trebek, who at times seems awkwardly infatuated with the champion. It is captivating to watch Ken and Alex banter back and forth while the other contestants stand powerlessly and marvel at the champion. We, along with Alex, can predict just how much money he will bet on his daily doubles, and we”ve grown to love the feigned look of surprise when he”s told that he is correct. He also has quite the sense of humor (‘What be ebonics?’ was a recent response of his). And as of today, he has won 49 consecutive games — meaning he”s also found 49 different ways to write his name — and will return this Monday to defend his crown. Of course, he”ll win again. He has had such extensive practice at mastering the buzzer-pressing timing that he holds an almost unfair advantage over his helpless opponents. Plus, and this is the understatement of the century, he”s pretty smart. His impressive and interminable run has earned him over 1.6 million dollars. If he doesn”t make it to two million, there may actually be a lot of people disappointed! A contestant by the name of Tom Walsh held the previous record, winning a relatively minute $184,900. Ken eclipsed that mark weeks ago, as well as every other record in the show”s history, including the single day winnings mark (previously $52,000, but now $75,000).

The existence of a proposed drinking game named Jeopardrink!: the Ken Jen Edition, described in a recent Slate article by Dana Stevens, proves that the game show world has never seen anything quite like Ken Jennings. The rules are amusing, to say the least. For instance: ‘If KenJen misses a question, everybody drinks once. If one of his opponents gets that same question right, drink again. If Ken Jen misses a Daily Double, drink twice. Responding to clues during regular play is optional (though who can resist shouting out the ones you know?), but Daily Doubles and Final Jeopardy can be used as occasions for competitive drinking.’ Finally, ‘everybody drinks once whenever a) Alex Trebek mentions Ken’s affiliation with the Mormon church, b) Ken Jen’s answer ends with a stylistic flourish, like “What are the munchies, man?” in response to a clue about an 8-letter word for “hunger pangs,’ or c) the banter between Alex and Ken becomes disturbingly intimate.’ Sounds like fun, doesn”t it?

Surprisingly, yet thankfully, there aren”t any rampant conspiracy theories about the possibility of the show being fixed. I”m referring, of course, to Charles Van Doren, a Columbia English professor who became a renowned winner on the fixed quiz show Twenty One in the 1950s. Appearing in front of the House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce in November, 1959, Van Doren confessed, ‘I was involved, deeply involved, in a deception. I have deceived my friends, and I had millions of them.” Van Doren resigned from Columbia. Hopefully, Jeopardy! isn”t fixed, and Ken Jennings won”t have to be condemned by the Mormon church.

Will Monday be the day the streak ends? Will it ever end? Maybe it will, when the sun doesn”t set. Oh, and Happy Birthday, Me.

Archived article by Avash Kalra