March 6, 2015

Take this Jeopardy! and...shove it?

At this writing the next online qualifier for the TV game show Jeopardy! is scheduled to open March 30, 2015. And while I really, really hope and want to be a contestant on that show, I'm seriously considering skipping the qualifier.

There's no doubt I can pass the test. I can pass nearly any knowledge test that these TV shows throw my way; I've passed the Jeopardy! test time and time again when I took it in person. That's not the problem. The problem is the next step: getting chosen to be on the show. And that seems to me to be an insurmountable obstacle, about which more below.

There's something to be said about persistence. Bob Harris, in his books "Steal This Book (and get life without parole)" and "Prisoner of Trebekistan" recounts that he got on the show after his fifth try (and apparently the only time he actually passed the test). One person I know who got on the show and became a nine-time champion got on after his eighth try.

But this appears to be an anomaly. From what I can gather, if it takes you that many tries to try out and not get on the show, you're probably never going to get on. I had a rare opportunity to confirm this -- perhaps rarer than if I had gotten on the show -- at the 2014 Trivia Championships of North America in Las Vegas. I had the good fortune during one of the rare "down times" to sit at a table with a number of former Jeopardy! champions. I asked each of them how many times it took for them to get on the show. I heard a lot of "ones", some "twos", a "three"; I'd peg the average at a bit less than two.

In fact, I got on the syndicated version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire after just my second try. But now, I am a veteran of seven in-person Jeopardy! tryouts; if I pass the test in 2015 and go to yet another in-person tryout, that would mark my eighth.

But at this point, I'm resigned to think, if I didn't get on by now, they'll never ever ever want me. That hasn't stopped some folks from trying over and over. As Bob Harris put it in "Steal This Book" of some wannabe Jeopardy! contestants, "stalkers give up more easily." Indeed, there are stories in the literature and on Facebook of wannabe contestants who have tried out as many as fifteen times to no avail.

Don't get me wrong; I love watching and playing along with the show. Always have, always will. And there's certainly something to be said about persistence and failure as a critical component for success in life. But at the same time, there's also something to be said about knowing when to pack up and move on.

This was most evident in my most recent tryout. You'll forgive me if I don't go into specifics here, but I got the feeling, reading between the lines, that I was being given the cold shoulder. Upon reflection, I recognized the cold shoulder in my past tryouts but still hoped that if I kept trying eventually I would break through.

Why won't they have me on the show? Lord only knows. Any or all of the following reasons may apply:

  • My last name is "weird" and hard to pronounce
  • They've had enough educated, white, males who work at an empowering job (software developer in my case)
  • I'm too much of a veteran of the quizbowl community and want to limit the number of "ringers"
  • They don't want to risk a discussion of media policy and media activism, or even a hint of the issue being raised
  • They think I'm too hyper for a staid show like Jeopardy!
  • My stories are too long to fit in the 20 seconds that now seem to be alotted to on-air contestant "interviews"

More likely, the actual reason I haven't gotten chosen to be on the show are probably more dumb than I can possibly imagine. Ironic for a show that prides itself on being smart.

So fine. I guess I can't get on Jeopardy! no matter how hard I try. I could rage against the machine, but I'd rather spend that energy to improve the world and write blog posts and write books and learn languages and make my millions in software instead of taking my chances at a game show at which I merely have a one-in- three chance to win.

Besides, if I become famous, maybe someday I might get on Celebrity Jeopardy! ;-)