Sunday, August 05, 2007

Grand Slammed

"I haven't seen a Lee that gracious in defeat since Appomattox."

Last night, game show enthusiasts, Victor Lee enthusiasts, and anyone who just happened to have come across the Game Show Network during prime time saw the premiere episode of Grand Slam. For anyone not in the know, the show gathers some of the biggest winners in game show history (and a handsome young up and comer or two) and pits them in a diabolically intense 16 team single elimination tournament for ultimate game show bragging rights.

The "Grand Slam" element comes from the category of the four rounds in each match up: General Knowledge, Math and Numbers, Word Games and Logic, and the always exciting Potpourri round. In addition to the difficulty of mastering all those disciplines, the games themselves involve you answering these questions as fast as possible before your one minute clock runs out. It's kind of like speed chess where you keep going back and forth, you answer a question your clock stops and the opponent's clock starts and they have to answer a question. Whoever runs out of time first loses the round and the winner gets to keep their time to be added to the final potpourri round. To give you a sense of the action, here's a clip from the original UK run of the show; pretty freaky huh? Add the esoteric color commentary of Dennis Miller, the ultimately uncompelling analysis of Amanda Byram and the unseen reading skills of Pat Kiernan and you got yourself Grand Slam.

So flash back to the beginning of June and I'm in the conference area of some random hotel in midtown eating catered fudge, drinking Fiji water, and listening to the producers of Grand Slam list the seeding of the tournament. I'm surrounded by a room full of millionaires and game show celebrities and just like WSOPC I'm still the youngest guy in the room (even more so this time around). I have no idea what the hell I'm doing here. I only got the call for this out of the blue about a month ago; they sent over some vague documents sort of explaining the game. Leading up to this tournament I've been more occupied by the month long backpacking trip to Costa Rica that I was going on immediately following the show. This is the third game show I've been on in this the most insane year of my life, what the hell am I doing here?

They announce that the bracketing is done by total winnings. I immediately figure myself to be the 16th seed meaning a first round draw against Brad Rutter; however they announce it's Amy, the girl from Lingo! My 1/3 share of $250,000 edges out her 1/2 share of being the champ of Lingo, which I later learned was $41,000 (come on GSN you have deeper pockets than that!). It was then I realized that the match up I jokingly hoped for when I heard of the contestants for this tournament had actually come true: it was 15th seed Victor Lee versus number 2 Ken FREAKING Jennings!

This was it, it was like when ham-and-egger Rocky gets his longshot opportunity against undefeated Champ Apollo. Like Ric Flair said, "to be the man you gotta beat the man" and here was my chance. At that point I didn't really even see myself winning the whole tournament, I would have been just as ecstatic to have beaten Ken on this the ultimate showdown of game show bragging rights. Then I could become part of that exclusive club of people who beat Ken Jennings on TV: Brad Rutter, an extremely lucky Nancy Zerg, and pop culture wunderkind Victor Lee. It was at that time I regretted not studying for any of this.

If it sounds like I had some sort of vendetta against my opponent, it's far from it. In fact, that whole time I was sort of in awe of the guy. Here was this guy who was essentially living my dream, becoming a multi-millionaire by answering trivia questions, cementing a spot as the greatest Jeopardy champion of all time, becoming nationally famous while doing it, and eventually quiting your boring job and writing books! I think there are elementary school journals of mine that actually list those as my exact goals for when I grow up. I had nothing but the respect for the guy.

I think that was the difference between WSOPC and GS. In the WSOPC I had little to no reverence for all those teams (with the notable exception of previous years' champ El Chupacabra), they were good enough to have made it New York and all but I haven't seen anything by them for me to deem them better than my team and I. In the case of the slam I was surrounded by big time champs, people who won what I won in total over one question. Someone who has won 74 straight games of Jeopardy, or the Million Dollar Masters Tournament, or 43 games of Tic Tac Dough, or arrogantly burned your final life line in Millionaire just to tell your dad you were going to win has definitely earned my props. I'd have to have a few WSOPC wins under my belt before I start talking any serious smack about these pros.

So hanging out with Ken in the green room and backstage and the long downtime on the stage, it actually turned out he was a pretty cool dude and unless it's just excessive Mormon kindness he didn't seem annoyed by me either. We shot the shit about pro wrestling and Nick Nolte, and shot a ridiculous backstage interview where we both announced our intense mutual hatred for each other and about how money hadn't changed Ken because he was an asshole then and was still one now. I don't know why that interview never aired?

The match itself was a quick and semi-anticlimactic affair relative to all the build up and anticipation I had. My proudest moment came in the first round when I edged out Ken by a little over 8 seconds in the general knowledge round. This was the closest to Jeopardy and the only source of pop culture questions for me so we were both in our elements. I could now say that despite it all I had beaten the great trivia wizard at his own game...once. That fleeting sense of satisfaction immediately disappeared when the math round came up and my inability to quickly work out number sequences and do general multiplication buried me and gave Ken a 31 second cushion. The third round, logic and words, turned out to be my last great hurrah as a string of lucky guesses and my idiot savant celebrity anagram skills got me another 8 second victory and put me well within striking distance going into the finals. Of course I then completely choked in the finals, it just seemed like every other question I was randomly asked was about math. In the end all I could do was stand there with about a second left waiting for Ken to get one question right to end it all and he did with about 30 seconds to spare.

Despite what people expected from such a seemingly lopsided matchup on paper it was quite a competitive game. Normally I don't take losing very well at all, but I recall feeling a little bit proud of myself and content with my performance. I don't know maybe it was the competition or the personal wisdom I gained from a year spent doing game shows, it was definitely not as bitter a pill as Jeopardy. In fact watching my interviews again now I am completely surprised at how uncharacteristically gracious I was after it all. In an ironic twist the passage of time as actually made me a little bit more bitter instead of the opposite effect like with Jeopardy. I'm still at peace with the whole experience but after watching the episode I realize how I could have gotten a handful of those crucial questions if I had just thought about it clearly for a second rather than play the game in a mental panic. I don't know if I would have won but I would have definitely narrowed the gap at the very least.

In the end though all props to the Stormin' Mormon. He came in and was a quick, focused, consistent performer in every category and in the end proved his mettle, nothing but the best of luck for the rest of the tournament. For me I hope I go down as the person who lost to the eventual champion rather than the person who got beat by the guy who lost in the next round. Only time will tell.


  1. man-you better stop being on tv or i'm gonna have to get cable

  2. If you've noticed, my game show appearances have gradually become further and further away from mainstream television.

    So look out for my latest appearance on "Win, Lose, or Martyrdom' on Al Jazeera.

  3. victor, i haven't seen the show yet, but i've heard you hold your own against Ken Jennings...btw -- didnt he miss an easy one on 1 vs 100 once? I could be wrong.

    (steve-- 3 men)

  4. We watched the episode, and man, the numbers and logic questions were ridiculous. I was stressed out just watching the show and can't imagine what it would have been like to actually be playing the game. You did great - I was rooting for you!

    Kelly (Wocka Wocka)

  5. I watched this show, and I think that had you gone up against anyone but Ken Jennings (or maybe Leszek, the guy that beat up on Ed Toutant), you would have won easily. You probably even could have taken Brad Rutter, since he struggled even more than you did on the math portion.

    You'll have to win WSOPC again next year so you can get a better seed if and when they do another one of these.

  6. The Grand Slam episode's been uploaded to YouTube!

    Awesome job, man.