As you might be aware, Jeopardy! is in a bit of a crisis at the moment, as the months-long quest to replace the iconic Alex Trebek resulted in the disastrous elevation of Mike Richards, only for Richards to resign after one day taping episodes. That resignation was at least partially a result of the reporting done by Claire McNear, a writer for the Ringer who has made America’s Favorite Quiz Show her bailiwick. McNear did the legwork of listening to dozens of podcast episodes hosted by Richards, uncovering his use of sexist, ablist, and anti-Semitic language while serving as the Executive Producer of The Price is Right.
Intrigued by McNear’s love of Jeopardy, and grateful to her for saving the show some embarrassment (though not all, as Sony apparently is content to continue employing Richards off-camera) I decided to purchase the book she had previously published about the show I’ve watched religiously for decades.
Jeopardy has been a daily ritual for me since before I knew enough to even guess at any of the clues. It was well-know in my family that no one was supposed to call between 7 and 7:30. I’ve passed the online test and auditioned four separate times. I’m a frequent visitor to the r/Jeopardy subreddit other websites devoted to the game.
It’s fair to say that I’m fairly well-versed on Jeopardy lore. Yet McNear was still able to unearth interesting nuggets about the show that I’d never encountered before. She also got insight from interviews with memorable contestants (both winners and losers), the show’s staff, and Trebek himself. She covers the show from every angle, from it’s inception as a response to the quiz-show scandals of the ’50s to the modern day statistical analysis used by some champions to improve their performance. She also examines it’s ubiquity in pop culture like Cheers and The Simpsons, and even speaks to Weird Al Yankovic about his classic “I Lost on Jeopardy!”
My favorite aspect was also the most frightening as a hopeful future contestant. McNear travels to the Trivia Nationals in Las Vegas where, as you might imagine, tons of Jeopardy obsessives gather annually. Her trip was a special occasion, as the show’s staff was on hand giving auditions to all comers. McNear delves into the myriad ways these aspirants go about prepping, and it’s a little daunting. She talks to people who’ve constructed replica buzzers to improve their reaction time and others who’ve drilled their interview anecdotes for maximum appeal. As someone who’s “prep” consists mainly of Sporcle quizzes and the too-infrequent bar trivia night, I may have some catching up to do.
McNear’s book, which was published in November 2020, ends of a chillingly prescient note. The show is gearing up for major transitions with the retirement of Executive Producer Harry Friedman and Contestant Coordinator Maggie Speak, while also preparing for the sadly inevitable loss of Trebek to pancreatic cancer. While the book seems certain that the hugely profitable show will continue, there is an acknowledgement that change is coming and may very well be unwelcome. Sadly, that seems to have been an understatement.
Answers in the Form of Questions is a very quick read that nonetheless packs in a ton of information in an entertaining fashion, much like the very show it chronicles. It has a lot to offer Jeopardy fans of every stripe, though perhaps many will want to wait for the paperback, which is sure to cover the hosting search fiasco and it’s aftermath.