Tuesday, August 25, 2009

That was Jeopardy!

In case you haven't heard, I've been on a few game shows back in the day. While my success varied from show to show from sweeping victories to traumatic choke jobs, overall they were all great experiences. I enjoyed the traveling, the hotel rooms, meeting/alienating other contestants from all over the country, the catered grub in the green room, the nervous competition on camera, the always friendly makeup ladies, and of course the occasional quick buck.

Aside from the fond experiences, the money, and the snagged hotel stationary; the one other parting gift I got from my weird game show odyssey was a set of never fail ice-breaking personal anecdotes. No matter what sort of social situation I'm in I find that if I can get out the personal fact that I was on a few game shows, it always manages to get the other person engaged and interested. So many of my recent job interviews over the summer began with curious inquiries and enthusiastic follows up questions about the "multiple game show contestant" blurb I put in my personal interests section. While the interview usually goes south when it comes to my job experience and academic performance, for the beginning it's all wide eyed wonder about meeting Alex Trebek or winning a quarter million dollars. When I went backpacking for a month through Costa Rica the summer after my last show, conversations about my game show appearances were usually a key part of friendly conversations struck up with other foreign traveling strangers from hostel to hostel. Hell, a good quarter of my Facebook friends are still random folks who found me after watching me on TV. For most people outside of my closest friends and family, for better or for worse, these game shows go a long way in defining me.

While the WSOPC was my single crowning achievement, almost everyone who has asked about my game show past always wants to know about Jeopardy. In fact, more often then not people have no idea what the WSOPC was (a fact that's sadly even more true today). I guess it's not all that surprising though since Jeopardy really is the most well known, longest running, holy grail of trivia game shows. I even have to admit, aside from the money, a loss on Jeopardy felt like a far more esteemed feat than a win on VH1. In addition, while the WSPOC was a group effort with my two friends and I, my Jeopardy appearance was a singular feat among my group of friends. It gave me a special bit of pride to have been on that podium next to Alex with the framed picture to prove it.

So when I recently got a call from my friend that she had been selected to compete on Jeopardy, I was surprised to find my personal reaction turned out to be more a complicated mix of bittersweet melancholy than usual congratulatory happiness. I should have been happy for her, she was a good friend and as a longtime, die hard, Jeopardy fan (who was actually responsible for getting me to take the online test back in the day), there wasn't anyone I knew that was more deserving of a chance to be on the show. However, I couldn't muster what logically should have been the feeling of happiness for her. All I could think about was the sad end of my once solitary distinction as the Jeopardy guy among our friends.

Which brings me back to the above pictured 1972 Miami Dolphins. For those who don't follow football, the 1972 Dolphins have their own solitary distinction as the only NFL team to have an undefeated regular season and to win the Super Bowl. They're also kind of a bunch of obnoxious assholes. The surviving members of the 1972 Dolphins have this insufferable tradition of coming together and drinking champagne every year when the final undefeated team loses their first game and thus ensuring them another year of solitary residency in "Perfectville". It's sort of a dick move to be actively rooting against an undefeated team and garishly celebrating something that happened nearly 40 years ago. I've always been against the 1972 Dolphins and their annoying tradition, even going as far as to root for the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII to complete their perfect season and finally put an end to their decades long arrogance. However, today I started to understand, albeit in only a small sense, the motivation for the 1972 Dolphins' yearly ritual. A pretty distinction is a petty distinction but it's still one's own petty distinction.

Having a record or distinction and having someone else come along and match or even surpass it is a complicated feeling. It's not exactly envy or jealously because you already have what they have, it's just an indescribable combination of sullen psedo-selfishness. You can be as gracious and as magnanimous as anyone, but I think it's only natural to sort of feel a sad sense of loss when something you've accomplished is overtaken; whether it be a game show appearance, or perfect season, or a high score on Gameboy Tetris. So maybe avoiding that feeling is something worth celebrating or actively rooting for. You can try to write it off by thinking that in the grand scheme of things none of these distinctions even matter, but that's just straight up rationalization. Yes outside of the incredibly narrow universe of my circle of friends, being the only contestant on Jeopardy won't matter a lick and to someone who doesn't follow any football, the surviving 1972 Dolphins just look like a bunch of wrinkled Florida retirees; but I live in the universe of my circle of friends and the Dolphins live in the universe of football fans. No matter what perspective you give it, it is still important to yourself.

So do I think the 1972 Dolphins are justified in breaking out the champagne? No. Would I actively root for my friend to crash and burn on her first appearance and not even make it to Final Jeopardy? No. Will I learn to be completely happy about all this? No. Am I still proud of her? Yes.

Well, at least with the cancellation of the WSOPC, I won't have to worry about losing that particular distinction.


  1. Was that Jen who was picked? I'll bet she wins...

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