Tuesday, November 30, 2004

The Ken Show finally canceled; Sony stock rebounds

The prodigious Jeopardy! run of Ken Jennings is finally over, after 74 consecutive victories and more than $2.5 million in total booty. Well, whatever's left of $2.5 million after Uncle Dubya and Uncle Ahnold slice off their respective pounds of flesh, and after the Mormons snake another ten percent for the root beer and Wonder bread fund.

You've got to hand it to the Kenmeister — you don't win that many straight games of anything by fluke, and especially not in Jeopardy!, as I can attest. Sooner or later you run into either a buzzsaw opponent, a set of categories far outside your sphere of knowledge, or both.

Since Ken started his record-smashing run, numerous folks have asked me how far I think I might have gone had the Jeopardy! rules at the time allowed unlimited wins, instead of limiting champions to five games. Who knows the answer to that? The contestant who won the game immediately following my "retirement" — a chiropractor named Stephen Lebowitz — was a terrific player who also qualified for the Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions that season. (As I recall, he was a right congenial chap as well.) I don't recall the categories that came up during Stephen's first game, so I've no clue how a head-to-head match between the two of us might have ended. I'd like to think that, under most circumstances, I could play straight up against anyone and hold my own. But anything can happen.

In the fourth game of my initial five-game sprint, one of my opponents was a rather surly young woman who was a grad student at Cal-Berkeley. After the match concluded, she whispered to me in a snotty tone, "If we'd had different categories in this game, I'd have beaten you." Perhaps she would have. But in Jeopardy! as in real life, sweetheart, what matters isn't what you might do with different categories; it's how you play the categories you're dealt.

I guess she was absent the day they taught that at Berkeley.

7 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Anonymous Anonymous offered these pearls of wisdom...

looks like we are all writting about KJ tonight.

Just a BE visitor saying Hi.

--Jon Langdon

9:30 PM  
Blogger SwanShadow offered these pearls of wisdom...

Glad you stopped by, Jon.

I'm just hopeful that people will now stop asking me, "Are you watching this guy on Jeopardy!?" I'll bet a lot of other former Jeopardy! champs are, too.

11:14 PM  
Blogger Rene offered these pearls of wisdom...

She was just a sore loser. Not all us Cal-Berkeley alum are snooty. Unless of course you went to Stanford. ;)

2:49 PM  
Blogger SwanShadow offered these pearls of wisdom...

No such luck, Rene. I attended Pepperdine for two years, and graduated from San Francisco State. (I did the Beverly Hills-to-bargain-basement tour of California higher education.)

2:57 PM  
Blogger Cygnoir offered these pearls of wisdom...

My flatmate saved Ken's last episode on my TiVo for me, but I haven't watched it yet. Perhaps I'm prolonging the inevitable. Ken was a constant in a sea of change, or something like that, yadda yadda.

I liked reading this post.

11:51 AM  
Blogger srah offered these pearls of wisdom...

Someone was telling me recently that Jeopardy contestants are given the categories in advance so that they can prepare... but this sounds totally wrong to me. Is it true?

10:55 PM  
Blogger SwanShadow offered these pearls of wisdom...

"Someone" couldn't be more wrong, srah. Because of the quiz show scandals of the 1950s, the studio (now Sony Pictures — it was still Merv Griffin Enterprises when I was on the show) takes incredible precautions to avoid even the hint of impropriety or favoritism toward any contestant.

The first time Jeopardy! contestants know what the categories will be in a given game is when Alex reads them on camera at the beginning of each round. In fact, the studio production staff doesn't receive the material for a particular game from the writers until just before game time, and the questions for each game are randomly selected from prepackaged sets of questions in blind envelopes.

That's why it's really impossible, for all practical purposes, to study for the program — there's no way to know what material will come up in a given game.

12:07 AM  

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