When I first started watching "Jeopardy," the dollar values were $10-50 for the first round and $20-100 for Double Jeopardy. The answers were revealed by stagehands pulling cards backstage. The only lights were the ones illuminating the stage. Don Pardo was the show announcer. Art Fleming was the host, and he didn't have all sorts of foreign words to over-pronounce. No one won trips or tens of thousands of dollars. The categories included such as "Potent Potables" and "Potpourri."
But the game was still damned hard to play, and needed legitimate intellect in order to succeed. "Jeopardy" was never about spinning wheels or drawing cards or shouting "Big Money! Big Money!" or "No Whammies!" It was never about dumb luck or bouncing up and down on stage like a contestant on "Let's Make a Deal."
"Jeopardy" is the one game show that can make me feel intellectually bankrupt. Yet it's that very feeling that draws me to it, like an insect to a porch light.
Not that I am an avid viewer. I don't stop what I'm doing at 7:30 p.m. to flip on channel 4 to catch Alex Trebek, that crusty old Canadian, delight in pronouncing various languages' words. But when I do happen to tune in, when the stars and the moon align properly, I find every episode to be challenging and fun.
There's a small joy I take in every "Jeopardy" question I can correctly ask. Each one is a mini victory. I consider myself a pretty good trivia guy, but the stuff these "Jeopardy" people know isn't trivia, it's a bunch of mini college theses.
There hasn't been an episode of "Jeopardy" yet, where I haven't mused aloud, "How do these people know this stuff, anyway?"
How does one study for an appearance on the show? How do you bone up on subject matter that can range from 18th Century European Literature to the history of minerals?
Yet Merv Griffin's creation (he came up with the idea of providing questions for answers, he said, while on a plane) has been featuring eggheads in six different decades now, all asking questions involving subject matter that I have no idea about how they have acquired the knowledge.
I'm a sucker for Final Jeopardy.
If I don't see any other part of the show, I want to see Final Jeopardy. And not just because of the iconic music that's played while the contestants scribble their questions.
It's the ultimate challenge. They give you the category then take a commercial break, giving you the requisite two minutes to wonder what on Earth the answer could be. Then Trebek comes back and reads the answer. The music is cued and plays. Everyone---the contestants in the studio and those of us at home---have about 60 seconds to come up with the correct question.
There's no better feeling of accomplishment than correctly identifying the Final Jeopardy question. It can more than make up for the previous 22 minutes of feeling like an idiot, which those eggheads make me feel like.
I caught the show last night, while at my mother's house for Thanksgiving. As usual, I was correct a pathetically low percentage of the time. As usual, I felt like an intellectual midget.
And, as usual, I can't wait to try it again.