June 03, 2014

“€œI stand to win a great deal of money in a game show that will never be invented,”€ Dick Cavett said somewhere, reflecting on his rare and unprofitable ability to ad-lib rhyming couplets in iambic pentameter.

I, on the other hand, am one of those bores without number who’s convinced I could clean up on Jeopardy! based solely on my talent for shouting the correct answers at my TV, punctuated with the phrases “€œHurry up!”€ and “€œYou moron!”€

As anyone who’s played Jeopardy! for real and won (or lost) will tell you, a game that seems like a cinch to any over-read geek playing on his sofa is a far more challenging competition when you”€™re sharing a bright, hot television studio with an audience, a host, two other contestants”€”and that damn buzzer.

I”€™m one of those “€œall women”€ and still don”€™t really understand what this one is in aid of”€”something to do with being wolf-whistled at by construction workers.”€

The show’s longest-reigning champion, Ken Jennings, calls the buzzer “€œa cruel mistress.”€ You see, you have to wait until host Alex Trebek has completely finished reading the clue before you hit the button. Do so one half-second too early, or too late, and you lose your chance to answer. Whereas I read the clues very quickly”€”my eyes “€œswallow”€ those chunks of text whole”€”so I always start screaming, “€œWhat is Twelfth Night?!!?”€™”€ before he’s halfway through.

Except I never phrase my answer in the form of a question, because it feels so corny and besides, I hate rules. Then there’s the betting. I may be able to sweep most non-sports-related categories on Jeopardy!, but I still can”€™t figure out how contestants manage to calculate their wagers, especially when they win by exactly one dollar”€”that little flourish that distinguishes a true champ.

I know: it’s because I”€™m a girl. In fact, being a girl is supposedly one of the biggest handicaps for any Jeopardy! contestant.

Even devoted fans of the show have complained for some time that a) there aren”€™t enough women contestants, b) there haven”€™t been enough female winners, c) the questions are “€œgendered”€ (this “€œboomer-feminist”€ analyzed over 1000 questions to prove it), and d) Alex Trebek is a condescending sexist pig.

These issues are being raised once again because, as I write this, Julia Collins has won 18 games in a row, raking in U.S. $391,000. That’s the third longest winning streak in the show’s history. (Ten years after his appearance, Jennings still tops the list at a staggering 74 consecutive wins.)

To no one’s surprise, Collins”€™ triumph has led some feminists to whinge about all the other women who”€™ve failed to make it this far during the show’s multigenerational run. Others have countered that women are doing much better on Jeopardy! of late. Either way, the experiences of a tiny number of females are once again being imbued with Some Kind of Meaning.


Sign Up to Receive Our Latest Updates!