Putting politicians in ‘Jeopardy!’
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?”