I have always been a fan of the game show “Jeopardy!” More accurately, I should say, I have always been a fan of the game show “Jeopardy!” on those occasions when the show doesn’t make me feel like an idiot.
“Jeopardy!” is really the only game show I can think of that requires its contestants to be smart. You can’t make an educated guess based on a multiple-choice question. You can’t phone a friend. You can’t take five minutes to consider the answer.
On top of that, contestants need to be knowledgeable about a wide range of subjects.
Not so much with contestants on, say, “The Price is Right.” If you regularly go shopping and have a pretty good sense of what things cost, you can do OK there.
“Family Feud” asks contestants to guess the responses to a survey question, something that doesn’t require a lot of book learning.
On “Deal or No Deal,” a show that was popular not long ago, all contestants had to do was pick numbered cases. You don’t even need to know how to count; the cases are pre-numbered.
But success on “Jeopardy!” means knowing a little about history, about geography, about music, about chemistry. It’s why even people who consider themselves well-rounded can get so frustrated by the game that they want to throw a shoe at the TV. Not that I’ve ever done that.
And it’s bad enough when I watch the show and see fellow adults who are infinitely smarter than I am. I can handle that. It’s the teen tournament that really humiliates me.
A few weeks ago, a 17-year-old girl from Florida won $100,000 answering questions I probably couldn’t have answered even if Alex Trebek had let me Google them. Of course, she didn’t know that the cherry is the official fruit of the District of Columbia, which I did know. So there’s that.
Of course, the real success in “Jeopardy!” is based almost exclusively on the luck of the draw — that is, which categories you get.
I feel very smart on the nights when the categories are sports, American history, movies, literature or U.S. presidents. I often know the answers to questions in these categories as soon as Alex starts reading the clues. Just last summer, three contestants whiffed at all five questions in a football category. I felt particularly smart that night.
But just as I start to feel a little cocky about my intellectual prowess, we move to Double Jeopardy, with categories like classical music, opera, physics and architecture.
At this point, I figure I might as well go to the kitchen and make a sandwich. Among the words I can never imagine coming out of my mouth are “I’ll take opera for $800, Alex.”
What’s worse is the condescending way Alex would make me feel stupid for failing to come up with the correct question to the Final Jeopardy answer: “The title character of this opera addresses his son in the Aria ‘Sois Immobile.’”
Someone — I forget who — once wrote that “Jeopardy!” was a metaphor for life. Know your stuff. Be better than the competition. And don’t choke under pressure.
By the way, did you know the Final Jeopardy question about opera? The correct question, of course, is “What is William Tell?”
At least that’s what Google said.