Jeopardy! is in trouble

16 September 2021

6:33 PM

16 September 2021

6:33 PM

THIS…iiiiiis Jeopardy! And it’s time now for today’s final answer. This pack of gibbering monsters is witlessly tearing down everything that’s good and decent about our society.

What is it? All of us. The vicious and grievance-obsessed people we’ve become.

Jeopardy! is that rarest of American traditions, one that really hasn’t changed. The quiz show has remained a granite bulwark against the pop cultural tides: same sober presentation and aesthetic, same challenging questions and unforgiving pace. There are no blazing graphics, no CGI car chases through downtown Montpelier during the ‘State Capitals’ category. There hasn’t even been a crossover with the Real Housewives — ‘Bitch, the largest fossil-fuels producer in Central Asia isn’t Uzbekistan!’ — immensely tempting though that must have been.

Instead Jeopardy! retained its rigor and consistency. That is, until last year, when longtime presenter Alex Trebek passed away after a battle with pancreatic cancer. A nationwide star search commenced to find a new host, and among those who tried out were Anderson Cooper, Joe Buck, Katie Couric, Savannah Guthrie, Dr Oz, Sanjay Gupta, LeVar Burton, George Stephanopoulos, Aaron Rodgers, Robin Roberts and Ken Jennings. Possibly my cousin and the guy who fixes my AC also auditioned. It did seem like a wide net.

Still, by August, the show had found its skipper, and in typical Jeopardy! fashion, it was a conservative choice. Mike Richards was the program’s executive producer. He did well during his audition, yet there were warning signs. Richards was — damningly — a white male. He also shared a name with comedian Michael Richards, who after using the n-word on stage became one of our very first cancellations back in 2006.

Rumors began to spread across social media that Richards had staged the auditions process, intending from the start to name himself as the new host. And then, disaster struck. The Ringer reported that back in 2014, Richards had asked his podcast cohost whether she’d ever taken ‘booby pictures’. A brief commotion ensued as every seventh grader in the country phoned for a lawyer.

Richards instantly apologized for this bit of playground insensitivity. And in their usual spirit of charity, the denizens of Twitter forgave him. They acknowledged that people make mistakes, while taking this as an opportunity to share their own weak moments and relay how they’d grown from… I’m kidding! I’m totally kidding. Oh man, the looks on your faces! No, they murdered the guy. They got him sacked as Jeopardy! host, then pressured him out of his executive producer positions, then danced on the grave of his mangled career.

Mob justice is nothing if not capricious. Howard Stern is sitting pretty, yet the guy who did a lame impression of a shock jock while also helming shows that educate the world is roughhoused onto the gallows? But the internet doesn’t have time for introspection.

And so it was onward, on to the next host, Mayim Bialik, a real-life neuroscientist who also played one on The Big Bang Theory. But then it came out that she had once been skeptical about vaccinating her children. It mattered little that she had since recanted and gotten both of her Covid shots. She’d also spoken out against C-sections and called herself a ‘proud Zionist’.

The media promptly went to work. Rolling Stone declared that Bialik had ‘harmful’ views about parenting and sex. The Washington Post innocently wondered whether she might be Jeopardy!’s ‘next big headache’, which was akin to asking whether dumping a tank of kerosene might prove a problem for the forest fire raging just below.

So now there are calls to cancel Bialik too. Which raises the question: is there a single person on Earth pristine enough to call up the Centrum Silver promos? Some have suggested LeVar Burton should be the next Jeopardy! host, but that’s only until it emerges that he politely smiled at a vagina joke back in 1971 or whatever. But maybe we should think more constructively here. Instead of tearing down the Jeopardy! brand, maybe our time would be better spent tearing down other quiz shows. Pat Sajak of Wheel of Fortune is a known Republican. And what is Cash Cab except a glamorization of casino capitalism by way of a greenhouse-gas-belching patriarchy-mobile?

Once we’ve eliminated every other educational show on TV, it’ll be back to Jeopardy! where we can set about applying the entire woke metric system. Have enough cleft-toed demisexual non-binary POCs been contestants? What’s the racial breakdown of the champions? Keep going with this and you crash headlong into an epistemological wall. Because trivia games by their very nature reward excellence, while identity politics subordinates excellence to representation. The goal for the woke is equality of outcomes across identity groups — ‘equity’ — rather than the inequality that results from competition and victory.

So maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that even a game show like Jeopardy! has been breached. It was a natural target. Canceling by definition rewards emotion over reason, the guttersnipe over the intellectual, the visceral rush of denunciation over the quiet pursuit of knowledge. This is the case even when it masquerades as a stickler for science and civility. Wokeness makes us dumb, in other words. And that’s a trend that Jeopardy! has long stood against.

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