Putting politi­cians in ‘Jeop­ardy!’

The Standard Journal - - EDITORIALS & OPINION - LEWIS Bill Lewis is a free­lance writer in Ma­ri­etta.See more of his work at www.word­smith-at-large.com.

While the game of cat and mouse fea­tur­ing con­gres­sional com­mit­tees ver­sus Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials con­tin­ues apace in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., there’s an equally, if not much more, ex­cit­ing con­test be­ing waged ev­ery week­day night. Alex Tre­bek and the writ­ers of “Jeop­ardy!” have been do­ing their dead level best to stump cur­rent cham­pion James Holzhauer. For the past three weeks or so they haven’t suc­ceeded.

In case you’ve missed the news, Holzhauer has thus far banked over $1.6 mil­lion in prize money from the game show pro­duc­ers. Only “Jeop­ardy!” leg­end Ken Jen­nings has won more in the his­tory of the pro­gram. But there’s a good bet Holzhauer will over­take him soon.

James him­self would prob­a­bly take that bet, what­ever the odds. It seems his stated pro­fes­sion is that of a pro­fes­sional sports gam­bler. So he makes his liv­ing in Las Ve­gas bet­ting on games. (Nice work if you can get it, I guess.)

I’ve been a “Jeop­ardy!” fan since the days of the orig­i­nal host Art Flem­ing and his side­kick Don Pardo (who later went on to fame as the Satur­day Night Live an­nouncer for 39 sea­sons). Im­pre­sario Merv Grif­fin cre­ated the for­mat in 1964 as a re­sponse to the quiz show scan­dals of the 1950s where some con­tes­tants had been given an­swers. Grif­fin flipped that around by giv­ing his con­tes­tants the an­swers and mak­ing them come up with the ques­tions.

If you’re not fa­mil­iar with the for­mat of “Jeop­ardy!”, five an­swers in 12 widely vari­able cat­e­gories pro­vide op­por­tu­ni­ties for play­ers to show off their gen­eral knowl­edge and ex­per­tise in trivia. The harder the ques­tions, the more money they’re worth. The cur­rent cham­pion seems to know not just a lit­tle about a lot of things, but a lot about a lot of things. He comes up with the right ques­tions to top­ics from the Bi­ble to rap mu­sic and works of art to sports sta­tis­tics.

One an­swer this past week, though, stumped all three con­tes­tants. The clue was “He’s a sen­a­tor from Ne­braska and the au­thor of “Them: Why We Hate Each Other and How to Heal.” Alex had to tell every­one that the cor­rect re­sponse was, “Who is Ben Sasse?” So­cial me­dia had a field day re­spond­ing to Sasse’s lack of recog­ni­tion. The sen­a­tor him­self joined in the fun with the self-dep­re­cat­ing post, “I’ll take ‘un­com­fort­able awk­ward si­lences’ for a thou­sand dol­lars, Alex.”

That brief lapse of wis­dom on the part of Holzhauer and his fel­low con­tes­tants got me think­ing that maybe in­stead of de­bates in the up­com­ing elec­tion year, per­haps We the Peo­ple ought to spon­sor a “Jeop­ardy!”-like op­por­tu­nity for can­di­dates. In­stead of let­ting each con­tender twist a ques­tion around and an­swer with his/her care­fully thought-out talk­ing points, let’s see what they re­ally know when pit­ted against each other with a buzzer in hand and a wide di­ver­sity of un­known top­ics on the board.

Per­haps one cat­e­gory might be “Con­sti­tu­tion­ally Speak­ing.” The eas­i­est clue? “We the peo­ple of the United States.” (Cor­rect re­sponse? What are the first seven words of the U.S. char­ter?) The hard­est? “They gave women and 18-year-olds the right to vote.” (What are the 19th and 26th Amend­ments?)

It would be fun to hear what some Demo­crat can­di­dates in a “Jeop­ardy!”like de­bate would say to a clue such as: “Don­ald Trump.” An­swers/ques­tions may range from “Who is the 45th pres­i­dent?” to the acer­bic, “Who is the devil in­car­nate?” If any Repub­li­cans chal­lenge The Don­ald, one of their clues might be “Witch hunt.” Ques­tion/an­swers could caus­ti­cally be any­thing from “What does the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee do ev­ery day?” to “What’s the quick­est way to find Nancy Pelosi?”

Us­ing “Jeop­ardy!”-style buzzers in the con­test would also al­low the vot­ing pub­lic to see the dex­ter­ity of can­di­dates. Cham­pion Holzhauer prac­ticed his buzz-in skills by wrap­ping mask­ing tape around a me­chan­i­cal pen­cil to try to mimic the weight of the real buzzer.

What would be re­ally fun is to have the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee chair­man write the Demo­crat clues and the DNC chair­man write the ones for any Rs. De­bates could even be in­ter­ac­tive with tele­vi­sion view­ers tex­ting in their sup­port of which an­swer they feel is best (or most orig­i­nal, at any rate).

Pol­i­tics is of­ten thought of as a game, right? So why not truly make it one? The only ques­tion I guar­an­tee all can­di­dates would cer­tainly get right (at least in their own minds) would be Fi­nal Jeop­ardy. With the cat­e­gory “Elec­tions,” and the clue, “Me,” ev­ery one of them would write, “Who will be the next Pres­i­dent of the United States?”

Bill Lewis

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