Answers in the Form of Questions: A Definitive History and Insider’s Guide to Jeopardy!

Answers in the Form of Questions: A Definitive History and Insider’s Guide to Jeopardy! by Claire McNear came out late last year and was a book I did not want to put down. For avid “Jeopardy!” fans like me, this was a speedy read. McNear had access to sit in on auditions and see how the show narrowed down its prospective contestants to find those select few who were TV-calibre. She interviewed the key people working behind the scenes such as the executive producer and contestant coordinator as well as the most familiar face of “Jeopardy!”, host Alex Trebek. In addition to the production staff, the author interviewed many players who had appeared on the show over the past 36 years during the Trebek era and I made notes to check them out on-line. While I may have forgotten some of their names, I didn’t forget their faces or famous appearances.

Some of my friends have appeared on the show and even been in the Tournament of Champions and other special tournaments. Since I have insider knowledge by proxy, many of my questions about the inner workings of the show had long ago been answered. Nevertheless there were some rules I was not aware of, such as wagers of $69 or $666 are prohibited. A tournament player told me that prior to the Final Jeopardy! round, players are given all the time they need in order to calculate their final wagers. In the words of my friend Leslie, “your math skills go out the window” when you’re under time pressure, so the producers do not rush the players’ calculations. What I did not know is that the same kind of time allowance is given for Daily Doubles:

“Contrary to how it appears on TV, contestants are given as long as they want to calculate their Daily Double wagers. But while players theoretically have limitless time to add up the remaining money on the board and riddle out how close their opponents might get–three-time contestant Alan Lin is known for elaborate midair counts as he sorts through his options on his fingers–they still contend with the host, who likes to keep things snappy.”

McNear covered the history of the second incarnation of the game with Trebek as host and included chapter topics such as betting strategy, knowledge acquisition, clue selection, as well as the lighter side of the game such as its influence on popular culture. She listed some of the show’s records, both remarkable as well as infamous. Every time I read more of the book I checked on-line to find clips of some of those historical moments.

When McNear was writing the book, Harry Friedman had just announced his retirement after 21 years as executive producer, and Trebek was battling pancreatic cancer. We have since lost Alex Trebek and have as new executive producer Mike Richards (who has also served as guest host, and is my personal favourite among the guest hosts so far). The inevitable question is whether a new host and EP will change “Jeopardy!”. I believe that the show will continue to be the massive success it has been for close to four decades.

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