I’ve been watching a lot of Jeopardy lately and trying to decide why.
For starters, I have some nostalgia that’s been misplaced. Jeopardy was never in the rotation of shows I’d watch weeknights with my dad, back when TV was available only on one screen and only at its airing time and so was an event. It wasn’t always cherry Gatorade and mint chocolate chip ice cream in mugs resting on the arms of the futon, and I wasn’t always sore after cross country practice, and my mom wasn’t always practicing “Fur Elise” slowly on the piano upstairs, but it was all those things at least once, and it was sweet, and so I think of Jeopardy these ways. Memory has a way of coalescing disparate experiences into a sturdier truth.
I hadn’t seen the show for a while until a friend had me over to make a meal, and we ate in front of the TV. Since then, my after-work fantasy has been getting home to put a game on over dinner. Right now, I’m dogsitting for my friends and putting it on to make myself at home, yelling the few answers I know at Teddy like he’s Alex Trebek.
This is objectively a huge waste. There’s a paralyzing abundance of Quality Content to stream. At least three people have asked me to watch Brooklyn 99, not just recommending it as something they’re enjoying, but urging me, saying it reminds them of me, they’re recommending it for me. I’m trucking through Pen15 alone and it’s the most dedicated I’ve been to a show since Saturday morning Yu-Gi-Oh. I got five eighths through Russian Doll, the most-mentioned show on my social media feeds for a short bit, binged in one night and completely talked over with friends, just as an excuse to hang out. I’d eventually finish it a month later in a grad school dorm—having flown to the Northeast to visit friends, exhausted from exploring all weekend, we found a way to stay in together for my last night.
I’ve liked these shows a lot. I think I get attached enough to shows like this to never want them to end, but maybe not enraptured enough to eat through anyway. Or maybe I’m just bad at watching real shows alone.
I call them “real” shows because Jeopardy isn’t real. I can’t imagine there was really ever a time before it. Most of the clues are timeless and the sea of episodes feels interchangeable. The winnings are presumably real, but the contestants don’t blink at wagering thousands, which makes the stakes feel safely trivial. The iconic music was originally composed as a lullaby for the producer’s son. The set is a retro-futuristic heavenly nowhere space.
I don’t think there’s anything to over-intellectualize here, which I always seem to need to do. I don’t think there’s a metaphor to stretch, or anything that self-medicating with one episode of Jeopardy a night poetically illustrates. I think I just like it. The woolen, deep blue of the clue cards is comforting. There’s a civility that’s almost drab compared to more sensational game shows. The contestants all seem like utterly normal people, and though they rack up life-changing streaks and return for the Tournament of Champions, to me they fold into a river of ordinary, encyclopedic knowledge. I like the way the questions and answers wink at the drowning depth of history, literature, culture… how any trivia I might happen to know only reminds me that my short silos of experience are arbitrary and sparse.
It was even during an ad break when I was scrolling feeds and found the video where Alex announces he’s been diagnosed with late stage pancreatic cancer. He’s out from behind his podium, truly being “open and transparent with our Jeopardy fan base,” even as he still speaks presentationally. He says he plans to fight it and keep working. He even jokes that his contract necessitates he not die for three more years.
But before this, he’d reflected on retiring in 2020, and teased about who he might groom to replace him. Trebek knows he’s not immortal, no matter how evenly he delivers each clue and correction. The camera hides nerves, and each friendly contestant really knows their podium space is fought for and fleeting. I can take a nightly soak in Jeopardy while I recognize its calm dependability is a facade, especially for everyone on the soundstage.
The show can’t be as invulnerable as it feels to me, maybe as it is designed to be. No production is. Even so, if Jeopardy ends tonight, I did the math, and at a rate of one episode a night, it’ll take me more than twenty-two years to deplete the dream. And that’s all the life I’ve known so far, again.