In the course of keeping my father company lately, I’ve been watching a bit of Jeopardy* lately. I enjoy it as much as ever, though something happened earlier this week that annoyed me.
First, let me say that I’ve noticed over the last bunch of years–maybe since Ken Jennings’s big run–that the runaway blowout game has become more and more common, and it seems like more often than not, by the time Final Jeopardy rolls around, the score is something like $28000 to $3600 and $1900, respectively. I watched one champion rack up a week of such wins, and then she lost to another guy who then went on to pile up another week of such wins. His name is Ben and apparently he teaches Philosophy at a college in Wisconsin.
Ben lost the other night. And though I found his run annoying precisely because all of his wins were boring blowouts, his loss annoyed the shit out of me. It boils down to rules, and I know, the rules are the rules, but there are times when slavish adherence to rules is complete BS, and this was one of them.
I don’t remember the numbers in play, but the game was not a runaway; Ben actually needed to be right on Final Jeopardy to win…or at least not wager so much that he’d lose on a wrong answer. The Final Jeopardy clue was this (paraphrased), in the category “Shakespeare Characters”:
“The names of these two lovers are taken from Latin words meaning ‘blessed’.”
Now, first off: I came up with the right answer, because isn’t that the most important thing about Jeopardy, anyway? For you, as a viewer, to feel as smart as, if not smarter, than the people on the teevee who know all this weird random stuff? Why yes! But still: the two challengers both answered “Romeo and Juliet”, and both of those answers were wrong, so both of them lost money. Again, the numbers aren’t important, but at least one of them still had some money left after their wager.
Ben, however, got the right characters: Beatrice and Benedick from Much Ado About Nothing. But wait! He spelled them Beatrice and Benedict, which was enough for the judges to rule him incorrect. His wager was big enough to drop him into second place, and off the show (until he comes back for the Tournament of Champions, so all isn’t lost for Ben).
“Rules are rules!”, people will say, but in the greater scheme here, let’s be real. He got the two right people in the right play, and if that clue had come up in standard play, where answers are verbal, he likely would have been fine unless he had been very careful to enunciate the ‘T’ at the end of Benedict. And I have seen people provide misspelled answers that were ruled correct on Final Jeopardy quite frequently! Lots of times people don’t know the exact spelling of whatever it is they’re writing, so they come up with a phonetic equivalent. So the rub here would be that Benedict is not phonetically the same as Benedick, and that’s true.
But again I say, come on. The guy obviously got the two right characters from the right play, while the other two players weren’t even in the ballpark. To rule that he loses because he was ninety-eight percent right, but his two-percent of wrongness was sufficient to be equivalent to the two other folks who were one-hundred percent wrong, was just annoying.
But we’ll see Ben again. He’s a terrific player, and his loss was bullshit.
None of the games since has been a blowout and we’ve seen the championship change hands every night since Ben’s exit, so there’s that.
And by the way, Mayim Bialik’s giggle when someone gets the Daily Double is still annoying. She’s fine as host, I just dislike that one quirk of hers.
* Yes, I know that the actual title of the show includes an exclamation point, but it looks typographically wrong to me, so I’m omitting it.