The Game Show Network with its reruns of old shows, original new shows, and game show revivals, seems to have reignited interest in this genre. Wheel of Fortune and Family Feud have been around a long time, but 21st century versions of Card Sharks and Match Game have popped up. The Wall is a relatively new entry, along with one I really enjoy: 25 Words or Less, sort of an updated Password.
For me, however, the grand-daddy of all game shows is Jeopardy! I anticipate it each evening, always learn something new from it, and – in a slightly oxymoronic way – respect its game show structure.
Half my admiration of Jeopardy! stems from its higher-level, fill-in format. Many current quiz shows rely on multiple choice questions from which contestants choose their answers. Thankfully, Jeopardy! players give no long explanations for their final answers. And there is no hyping of big-money payoffs that lead to an abundance of flashing lights, histrionics, and relative hugging.
No, Jeopardy! requires a display of pure knowledge by contestants, who are presented no answers from which to choose, must signal to respond, have mere seconds for their response – which they are required to deliver in question form. Their sole helpful resource: occasional subtle hints cleverly embedded in clues. The show’s only chit-chat occurs after the first commercial break with the brief mention of some hobby or experience succinctly described. Substantial dollar winnings are based on wagers – and the number of successful appearances by contestants.
My respect is daily doubled by the presence and talents of host Alex Trebek, who recently succumbed to pancreatic cancer. What an erudite, urbane gentleman he was for his entire 37-year presence at the answer-question desk! Dignified and unfailingly-polite with a quirky sense of humor, he moved each show along briskly. He managed to pronounce and quip his way through dozens of clues – accepting or rejecting responses with appropriate measures of authority, enthusiasm, and solicitude.
Born eighty years ago in Ontario to an immigrant father and a French-Canadian mother, Alex Trebek experienced a certain level of poverty and illness during his childhood years. Eventually he attended boarding school, from which he was almost expelled for misbehavior; the memory of that experience during a recent interview rendered him momentarily unable to speak. His first job was as a bellhop at the hotel where his father worked as a chef.
After receiving his degree in philosophy from the University of Ottawa, he broke into television as a news announcer and game show host, his bilingual abilities making him all the more versatile. Arriving in the United States in 1973, he continued his hosting duties for numerous game shows. He assumed his position on Jeopardy! in 1984 and earned American citizenship fourteen years later.
I was in even greater awe of his abilities when I learned that he taped all five shows for the week on one day. He flawlessly read a potential maximum of 61 clues per session – 300 on taping day, by my calculations – authoritatively and with aplomb.
I have already lived my primary dream job, but my secondary plum assignment would be clue writer for Jeopardy! To that end and in tribute to Alex Trebek, I have tried my hand at clue creation. Disclaimer: it is much harder than it looks!
Category: Flocking Together
This animal is purrfectly content to spend time with its mates in a pounce or a clutter. (What is a cat?) —- These spiny mammals congregate around shrubbery in groups called prickles but are rarely seen in the United States. (What are hedgehogs?) —- Although these largest existing land animals gather in herds, Dr. Seuss might use the alternate group name of memory – after all, they never forget. (What are elephants?)
Category: He’s How Old?
At 70, this former late-night host now spends time in his garage with 150 cars and motorcycles worth over $50,000,000. (Who is Jay Leno?) —- This Urbana-born thespian, known as the intimidating guard at Shawshank Prison as well as owner of the Krusty Krab, where SpongeBob works as a fry cook, turned 60 early last year. (Who is Clancy Brown?) —- This former child actor, left to his own devices to fend off burglars in the family home with a series of booby traps, celebrated his 40th birthday last summer. (Who is Macaulay Culkin?)
Speedy, spokesfigure for Alka-Seltzer antacid tablets, spent fifteen years singing this onomatopoeic jingle in TV commercials. (What is “plop, plop, fizz, fizz”?) —- Fight scenes in this 1960s TV action series, based on a comic book hero, relied on printed onomatopoeic words such as POW! – ZAP! – BAM! for drama. (What is Batman?) —- The name of this slushily-frozen carbonated drink is itself an onomatopoeic representation for the sound of sucking it through a straw. (What is a Slurpee?)
Concluding my tribute, I present the Final Jeopardy clue: He served as the longtime host of one of America’s most popular game shows – without assistants or guest hosts. His breakfast often consisted of candy bars and diet soda. He delighted in DIY projects around his house and carried the Olympic torch on a leg of its trip to Atlanta in 1996. He was a true philanthropist, making regular donations to his college alma mater and substantially supporting homeless shelters, conservation projects, and pancreatic cancer research. (Who was George Alexander Trebek?)
May his soul rest peacefully…
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.