RICHMOND — It’s not just missing Alex Trebek and the way he quietly, graciously and, occasionally, humorously, hosted “Jeopardy!” for many years. It’s being frustrated for the sitting ducks who now come onto the show in the reign of Matt Amodio. It is their fate to stand there and lose.
Some longtime fans have objected to the fact that Ph.D. candidate Amodio always says, “What’s” on his answers, whether the subject be person, place or thing. That’s no problem in this corner. What’s maddening for me is that he pushes the button to answer the second that becomes possible, often before the answer has made its way into his head.
Take a look. Clue, click, hesitation — sometimes a downward glance — then the question. Granted, he’s mostly right. But for some reason, his opponents fail to perceive that they must click first and think afterward, win or lose. So they stand there, motionless, while he adds to his first million.
I’ve begun to think of those hapless two beside him as victims rather than contestants. I’ve begun to wonder why new ones accept the invitation every day. I’ve begun to wish for a new genius who is digitally equipped — meaning finger-fast — to take the plunge.
Matt Amodio is moving quickly toward the “Jeopardy!” success stories of the legendary Ken Jennings, now serving as a co-host for the show, and the gambler from Las Vegas, James Holzhauer, both of whom won more than $2 million. Jennings was always charming as a contestant; Holzhauer not so much.
[Editor’s note: Amodio lost, ending his 38-game streak, Monday, after this column was written.]
Sometimes appearing before the always elegant Trebek in a T-shirt, Holzhauer had little personal appeal here, except for his unbelievable knowledge of a zillion categories of trivia and his quick perception of any clue in the clue. Also to his credit, he has given thousands of dollars to charities, mostly to help children.
But he also, in the opinion of several writers, “broke” the game. The champ starts the evening, and instead of the traditional pick of a $200 clue, the gambler took the last, best clue. He started with $1,000. If he was lucky — and he often was lucky and knowledgeable — he’d run across the board, grabbing all the $1,000 clues. This puts his opponents at an immediate disadvantage financially. The big money is gone before they get a click in.
No question that the best contestants are deft with the clicker. No question that it’s not perfectly legal to run for the best money out of the starting gate. Since James, few contestants warm up with the easy stuff. They jump to the hard clues and the big money, if the returning champion gives them a chance. Perhaps “Jeopardy!” should consider some random way to choose who starts. In many games, from tic-tac-toe up, the starter gets a better chance to win.
Merv Griffin’s genius idea of providing the answers and asking for the correct question came into a world that had loved game shows in the 1950s and been betrayed by them when it turned out they were rigged. It took awhile, but Griffin’s concept has thrived — with a few intermissions — for decades.
Griffin’s first host, back when I became hooked on this odd A & Q show, was Art Fleming, World War II bomber pilot, actor and radio announcer. Starting in 1964, he appeared in 2,858 episodes. The show paused in 1974, revived for another year with Fleming, then slept until 1984 when Alex Trebek arrived and ran the show that pulled in millions of followers around the world.
One writer notes that in her college days, she and her roommates created a drinking game with “Jeopardy!” One can only hope the cue to drink was a wrong answer because contestants are usually right.
The extraordinary popularity of “Jeopardy!” meant that millions mourned when Trebek died of pancreatic cancer in 2020. In the wake of that loss, it was interesting to watch how a long string of celebrities tried to host the show, some successfully, some not — most somewhere in the middle.
These days, it’s former champ Jennings or Mayim Bialik (both very good) alternating. So the show goes on — but I’m thinking of taking a vacation until the present champion loses. At the moment it’s like Red Sox vs. Taconic High School.