Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Engaging Players & the 2009 Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions

Unlike last year, I didn't get to see the Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions live this year, and so I had to see what happened on TV like everyone else. I have to admit, I was actually disappointed in the outcome, having become something of a Larissa Kelly fan over the past few months. That's nothing against winner Dan Pawson, who truly deserved his victory by getting that last Final Jeopardy! response correct (and who, I thought, was most gracious in winning). I just found Kelly a more engaging contestant. Perhaps that's why she has her own Wikipedia entry, despite a fairly contentious discussion a few months ago debating whether or not she was considered "notable" enough for the online encyclopedia (the final verdict was, "Yes, she is, by virtue of being the all-time highest winning female contestant in non-tournament play, and the third all-time highest non-tournament winner overall.").

As I understand it, the producers of Jeopardy! had a concern when they changed the rules a few years back so that winners could stay on the show, so long as they kept on winning. The concern was that a particularly brilliant, but particularly boring, player could stay on the show for too long, and viewers would lose interest. Indeed, many shows choose their contestants specifically based on their personalities. That is to say, "boring" players are weeded out, without regard to how well they might actually play the game. The nature of Jeopardy! means that such "personality-based selection" is at least secondary to demonstrated ability to answer trivia questions (which, in the case of Jeopardy!, is mostly done online these days). Even so, I can understand the potential for concern. Not all players are equally likable, and although I don't think a potential contestant should be denied the chance to prove themselves on such a basis, I certainly concede that Jeopardy! (and any television show) simply must retain viewers if they are to survive. If the show goes off the air, then nobody will have the chance to play!

I don't know how much "likability" plays into Jeopardy! contestant selection. Perhaps it doesn't matter at all. I certainly wouldn't want to argue that it should take higher priority over the online exam. Still, I'm always glad when a Larissa Kelly or a Ken Jennings comes along: a person who can win big, while still being a fun person to watch. May we see more in the upcoming season!

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