Home / I’ll Take “Smug Assholes” for $200, Alex

I’ll Take “Smug Assholes” for $200, Alex

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I consider myself a reasonably intelligent person, so I enjoy the challenge of watching Jeopardy! I get a thrill out of answering some (very few) of the questions correctly, but I also like to feel superior to those who perform poorly on the show, confident that I could’ve done better.

Jeopardy! has been in the news recently due to the overwhelming success of contestant Ken Jennings, a dorky guy who, as of this writing, has managed to win $1,635,061. He’s appeared on over 40 episodes. He’s a young, clean cut guy from Utah. He doesn’t drink. He’s donating 10% of his winnings to the Mormon Church. He’s even done the talk show circuit.

Needless to say, I hate Ken Jennings, Champion of the Geeks.

This is not sour grapes, mind you. I think the guy is extremely smart with a well-rounded base of knowledge, but he’s been built up into this trivia machine who can’t be defeated. BULLSHIT, I say. He’s lasted this long because the Jeopardy! producers want him to keep winning, because they know his streak provides a positive buzz around show, and advertisers are salivating to get in on the action. In fact, I charge that the Jeopardy! producers have gone out of their way to ensure that Jennings keeps winning.

As someone who once worked for various game shows in Los Angeles, I can attest to the behind-the-scenes machinations that go into selecting which contestants will be matched against each other. It’s not as simple as finding three players who want to appear and then slotting them into an episode.

For instance, quiz show producers will never put two hot, attractive females on the same episode. Why? Because not many hot, attractive females audition for quiz shows. You don’t want to waste the ones you have in your contestant pool by pitting them against each other. You spread out your hot, female contesants over the course of the entire season. Watch an episode of Jeopardy! You rarely, if ever, see more than one female on any given show.

Most quiz shows give a written test during the audition process in order to gauge a potential contestant’s intellect. There is a minimum score needed to be considered as a contestant. For argument’s sake, let’s say that Jeopardy’s audition test has 30 questions. Let’s also assume that Ken Jennings would’ve scored a perfect 30 on said test. After picking Jennings to appear on the show, there is no way in hell the producers would match him with another player who also scored a 30. It’s the hot chick theory again. You wouldn’t want to waste two high-caliber players on the same show, now would you?

Taking it a step further, you can see why Ken Jennings never seems to play against young males who are close in age or intellect. Men aged 25-40 tend to fare best on quiz shows with a buzzer because they grew up in the Atari/Nintendo age; consequently, they developed fast reflexes and good hand-eye coordination through years of playing video games. This explains why Jennings is usually the first to ring in and answer. He’s developed a rhythm with the buzzer.

Using this logic, if the producers matched Jennings against two 30 year olds of similar intellect, who were also quick on the buzzer, then the chances of Jennings being defeated are astronomically increased. So, we get what we’ve had for the past few months: Jennings playing against old-fart college professors and overweight, middle-aged librarians who have no chance of matching up with him.

Having said all that, I could accept the fact that Jeopardy! is deliberately easing Ken Jennings through the show to boost ratings if he weren’t so chronically annoying! The show is no longer fun to watch because this smug asshole is always leading by $5,000 before the first commercial break! Why the Jeopardy! producers would go out of their way to tirelessly promote a self-satisfied, geeky teetotaler from Utah is beyond me. Watch as Jennings shakes his head in disbelief when he’s introduced, as if he can’t fathom his success. See him struggle with a “Daily Double” answer, until he magically pulls it out of his brain at the last moment. Witness me vomit in the corner because I’m sick of his “gee-shucks-I’m-just-a-regular-guy” phony self-deprecating routine.

Jeopardy! producers, do me a favor and boot this guy off the show before I run screaming from the TV set forever.

Ken Jennings, you’re no Charles Van Doren.

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About Brian St. Brian

  • Eric Olsen

    I like the behind the scenes stuff – we almost never talk about game shows here. Thanks and welcome, Brian!

  • Vic

    I don’t know, dude. I’ve watched Ken, and I think your theory would be valid if he didn’t answer so many questions. If the other two were always dopes, but Jennings didn’t buzz in that often either, I’d say yeah, somethings up.

    The guy must just have a photographic memory, and he also has a knack for educated guesses, as is evident from the hesitation in the way he gives many answers. But he answers 9/10 questions which is amazing.

    I can see how one might suspect that something is up… sometimes I wish I could see if the guy was wearing a wireless earpiece, but I doubt it.

    What bugs me is that you can have someone with this unprecedented run on the show acting humble and continually surprised that he’s still there, and folks find a way to criticize him. In this world of ego-maniacal people in the media (professional athletes in particular) it’s refreshing to see someone be humble during their “15 minutes”.

    Or would you rather see some obnoxious “yeah, that’s right, I’m the man” type of personality?

    More power to him, and BTW, you may not have heard that he is going to quit voluntarily if he makes it through 75 games.


  • SFC Ski

    I know what you mean, it was the same way in the Olympics, there was always that one athlete winning a race, sometimes even a decathlon. If ya ask me the whole thing was rigged. THat Ken guy is probably a space alien, no human is that smart, maybe it’s the guvmets way of easing them into mainstream culture,”Semms like a nice enough guy, surei s smart, let’s give him some people to experiment on” The truth is out there, thanks for leading me in the right direction.

  • Vic, I think the whole awe shucks stuff is phony. He has all of these other goofy things he does like writing his name differently etc. I don’t think he’s humbled at all. He’ll parlay this into a book deal etc.

  • Vic,
    One of my old profs was a 5-time Jeopardy winner and finally lost in the tournament of champions to the all-time Jeopardy champ, a guy named Chuck.
    According to Jay, my prof, the toughest part about the show is getting used to the buzzer. It’s apparently tricky and it works completely differently from the home version of the game (note: I am not THAT big a geek: I’ve never played it.)

    Ken’s clealry knowledgeable, but also quite clearly not that much better than many other contenstants on the show. But he knows how to use the buzzer, he’s far beyond being afflicted by the butterflies that are befuddling the newbies, and his confidence is soaring.

    In support of the buzzer hypothesis: note that he’s usually the first one to buzz in–it’s not that others are missing the questions…and you can often even see that they’re trying to buzz in. But apparently if two people press their buttons at the same time they cancel each other out and you have to know what to do then.

    He’s good, but he’s not THAT good, and it’s not really his knowledge that’s winning this for him. But I doubt your hypothesis, primarily b/c the guy is so irritating that I don’t even watch the show anymore…and I’m sure there are many others like me.

  • Pappy

    It’s already been reported that Ken Jennings finally lost in an episode that will air sometime soon. Someone in the audience of the taping of that episode leaked it out, along with the final question he botched.

    At least take solace in the fact that although you haven’t seen it yet, he has lost. Of course this opens the door for him to be in the Tourney of Champions for many years to come.