A Rare Personal Reflection on Jeopardy and Me
Throughout the years I have often referred to my great love of Jeopardy. Every year or so, I mention that the series has been a constant in my life since childhood, that the champions were at one time more familiar to me than actual friends, and how much the late Alex Trebek has meant to me. What I have not really gone into is how much certain elements of the show have always appealed to me and have, in their own way, been a calendar.
I have mentioned on occasion how special I find the Tournaments Jeopardy seems to have every few years to commemorate champions of years past. What I’ve left out is how I measure them. Ever since the Million Dollar Masters in 2002, I have gone through the process of recording almost every celebration of Jeopardy over the years and making a schedule to rewatch them. These include the Ultimate Tournament of Champions in 2005, The Battle of the Decades in 2014, The Jeopardy All Star Tournament in 2019 and last years Prime Time: Jeopardy: Greatest of all Time.
And over the years, I have set up schedules to watch them. I start with the Million Dollar Masters in early January. Then in February, I begin watching the Ultimate Tournament of Champions. (It was the most complex and involved 76 games played over the better part of four months.) In the summer, usually after the series goes on hiatus, I watch the Battle of The Decades, which took place over five weeks. And I close out the year by rewatching the All Star Tournament.
I have never in all the years of recording considering binge watching any of these tournaments. That has always gone against what seemed to be the rules of the show. You got one episode a day; why should I change it now that I have it all on tape? (I’ve never been much for binge watching in the first place, so why should I violate my code now). Besides, it’s never been about playing along. It’s about appreciate the skill of truly talented players. Not just those who have become famous over the past few years, like Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, but the pioneers who made the series what it was over the years. Men and women like Frank Spangenberg, Eddie Timanus (the first blind five day champion) and Robin Carroll, to later sensations like Austin Rogers and James Holzhauer. It also is fun to see the categories that have made the series what it is, and which you’d never find on any other show. I don’t know where else you’d see categories like THOSE DARN ETRUSCANS, GRANDSON OF WOOD, GHASTLY OPERATIC DEMISES and one of those perennial favorites, BEFORE & AFTER. Does anyone even remember that this was originally a Wheel of Fortune category before Jeopardy perfected it?
In a way, this series has helped measure the seasons of my life, more than the actual calendars. There are two ways in which I view the passage of the year: award shows and Jeopardy tournaments. And both have gotten me through some difficult periods, particularly in the last four years. Indeed, during the past year, I measured the scope of the pandemic and when I hoped it would be over based on when I watched my tournaments. Way back last March, I really hoped the lockdown would be over when I finished the Ultimate Tournament of Champions in late May. Oh, how naïve I was.
And of course, as I watch it this year, my thoughts will turn to Alex. I think, as much as anything else, these tournaments brought out the very best in Alex Trebek. He didn’t really associate with champions outside of Jeopardy (or so he said) so I can’t help but think that these tournaments served as a reunion with old friends with him. His ability to interview contestants was one of his greatest strengths, and in every tournament (including the annual Tournaments Of Champions) he always seemed to be interested in the good ways winning had affected these contestant lives. He would make comments about things that they had done in the years they’d been gone — jobs that they gotten, books that they written, how their lives had changed. More than anything else, he made sure that the show was all about the champions, though he really seemed to be having as much as fun as they were. It will be hard watching these tournaments knowing Alex is no longer there, but it will also serve as a reminder as to how great he was.
Today, as I begin to rewatch the Ultimate Tournament of Champions, many thoughts will cross my mind. What will the world be like when I finish it in three months? What will Jeopardy be like in the future? And more than anything, how much of an icon Alex Trebek is, was and always will be. He may be gone, but as long as these tournaments and his shows are replayed, we always have a record of legacy. (Of course, I have thoughts on how streaming services choose to show, but I’ll save that for another article.)