Jeopardy! was at DAR Constitution Hall this weekend to tape its annual Power Players Edition, featuring mostly media and political celebrities. I was in attendance for two games, one featuring CNN’s Kate Bolduan, the Post’s Jonathan Capehart, and comedian Louis C.K, the other featuring Senator Al Franken, conservative pundit Ana Navarro, and CNN’s Sunny Hostin. I have five observations to share about the iconic quiz show and its guests.
***** SPOILER ALERT *****
The Jeopardy! games discussed in this post won’t air until May 18 and 19. I hadn’t planned to reveal any results, but after what a huge dick Trebek was, I’m going to go ahead and talk about who won. If you want to be surprised, don’t read on.
The tapings needed to be at the Verizon Center because Constitution Hall wasn’t big enough to hold Trebek’s ego
It’s called Jeopardy! but it quickly became clear that I was watching the Alex Trebek Show, as the longtime host made the proceedings as much about himself as possible. Between each taped segment of the game there was a 5-10 minute interlude during which Trebek stood on stage and asked the audience to ask him questions…about himself. Like someone who’s never been told they aren’t engrossing, he spun self-obsessed anecdote after anecdote, going on for minutes about the time he trimmed his own mustache or the time he met Bill O’Reilly. The depth of ego and lack of self-awareness he displayed was stunning, even for a celebrity.
Clearly delighted with himself, the 75 year old routinely spoke to his crew and the contestants in cutesy little voices, imitating no one in particular, and drawing obligatory laughs from an adoring crowd. He came across as such an asshole. During the game, Kate Balduan tried to pick a category when it wasn’t her turn. Trebek talked over her, declaring: “Whoa, whoa, it’s not your turn, Kate. I’m all for women’s lib, but that’s taking it too far.” During one of his question sessions, he was talking about the show being carried on the Armed Forces Network and did an exaggerated, racist impression of a Korean man with bad English running up to him and shouting “Jeopardy!” I immediately turned to the Asian dude I was watching with and found his mouth hanging open.
Worst of all though? Trebek has claimed many times that he loves taping in Washington, D.C., but when someone asked him what his favorite thing to see in the city is, he demurred and said lamely: “I don’t know enough about what’s available.”
Al Franken thinks Trebek’s an asshole too
Senator Franken’s disdain for Trebek was thinly veiled at best. He gave the host a hard time the whole taping, but really went for blood during the portion of the show where Trebek speaks with each contestant. Trebek was talking about Saturday Night Live’s fortieth anniversary celebration and noted that he’d never been on the show. “You have to have talent for that” shot back the senator in a non-joking voice. Trebek winced; many in the crowd gasped. And then the host played it off, noting that the remark would be removed in editing. (I assume his women’s lib crack will be as well).
Comedians are smarter than pundits
No one was Wolf Blitzer-level terrible this year, but it was still an awful showing for talking heads. In both games I watched, two pundits faced off against a comedian, and in both games, the comedian ran away with it, doubling the pundits up and rendering Final Jeopardy! irrelevant. Jonathan Capehart, Kate Bolduon, Sunny Hostin, and Ana Navarro–people who get paid absurd sums to talk about the news with authority–got smoked by Louis C.K. and Al Franken.
No one should be more embarrassed than GW grad Kate Bolduon, a CNN broadcast journalist who apparently doesn’t know who’s on the Supreme Court. Her Final Jeopardy! question asked which Reagan appointee is currently the longest serving justice. Anyone even remotely informed about politics should know that’s Anthony Kennedy, but inexplicably, she answered David Souter, who hasn’t been on the bench in seven years!
Jeopardy! is bizarre in person
On television, Jeopardy! comes across as staid and dignified, a program for the intellectual and the elderly. It’s the last show I would have expected to try and pump up its studio audience with nineties arena anthems like Whoomp There It Is. It felt so incongruous, sitting in stately Constitution Hall, watching members of the Clue Crew gyrate in the aisles. At one point they got everyone to stand and sing along as they played Take Me Out to the Ballgame. At another, Trebek’s stand-in warmed up the crowd with some truly corny standup. Combined with Trebek’s protracted question taking sessions, watching Jeopardy! in person was a bizarre slog that felt incompatible with the show’s august image.
Louis C.K. stole the show
Whereas Al Franken overtly mocked Trebek and started a pissing contest, Louis C.K. used his trademark deadpan delivery to subtly undermine the host’s authority and amuse the audience. But Louis wasn’t just playing for laughs. I think he acted the fool and sandbagged the practice round against Balduan and Capehart. He got almost all of his questions wrong, buzzing in repeatedly with answers like “why….did I buzz in?” He finished with no money, giving the impression he was going to be in way over his head for the actual game. But as soon as the camera started rolling, Louis turned it on. He jumped out to an early lead, answering question after question seriously, nearly sweeping a movie character category. By the end of the second round, he’d more than doubled up his pundit opponents, ensuring he took home $50,000 for the Fistula Foundation. The crowd was thrilled. And now Louis C.K. can add Jeopardy! champion to his lengthy list of honors and awards.
Oh, and by the looks on his face, I’m pretty sure Louis thought Trebek was an asshole too. I mean, how couldn’t he?