Sixteen, going on seventeen

Wednesday, 23 June 2004 — 7:47pm | Television

That’s how many consecutive wins Jeopardy! sensation Ken Jennings is sitting at as of tonight, doubling the previous record of eight. Given that this is still within the first year of the decision to scrap the victory cap, one only wonders how far people will go in the future. Having to go up against a super-genius is not exactly the luckiest thing, from the perspective of the other contestants who made it all the way past the rigorous audition and screening process only to be mowed down by this guy, but limitless record-setting certainly has a certain degree of audience appeal, as we wait and see who will finally bump him off. It’s like the old days in video arcades where lines would form behind the joystick titans of Street Fighter II, some going at it for longer than most would bear to stay and watch in one sitting, if it were not for the fact that they were seeing a legend in action, and knew it, too.

Jeopardy! – otherwise known as one of the single-digit number of programmes I would order if television services worked under a show-by-show on-demand model, which they do not – is remarkable in that it does exactly what a good game show is supposed to do: make the audience feel alternatingly smart and stupid. Everybody can sit down with a given episode and clean house with half the categories and draw blanks with the rest; the contestants, however, face them all – and under both time and camera pressure, which even board game players could tell you is a very difficult adjustment. Today’s television programming exploits a fascination with the everyman, with a so-called “reality”, but the answer-and-question mainstay of broadcast trivia that has been with us since 1964 still boasts the most admirable real-life heroes on the airwaves.

Incidentally, Jennings is a software engineer. Maybe they aren’t so bad after all.

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