Monday, April 29, 2019

How big a deal is the Holzhauer game show streak on television's Jeopardy?

I’m not a regular viewer of television game shows. But while helping to watch over a grandparent on Friday, I got to see the latest segment of suburban Naperville native James Holzhauer’s winning streak on “Jeopardy” that’s gaining him national celebrity.
Will anyone remember him after this week?
He’s the guy who bills himself as a professional gambler and has managed to be a daily winner on the show 17 straight days now – having run up prize money totaling nearly $1.3 million.

WHICH MAKES HIM a big-bucks winner, and is about half-way to setting an all-time record (at least by “Jeopardy” standards) if he can keep the streak going to about $2.5 million.

It also has the potential to give him a big chunk of change, so to speak, that he could take back to his current home city of Las Vegas (he is a professional gambler, so to speak) to place bets on the upcoming NBA Finals or next year’s Super Bowl.

Or maybe he’ll try to run up his game show winnings by playing craps or the slot machines or some other game of chance.

If you get the feeling that my thoughts about all of this are a tad cynical, you’d be correct. It seems like quite a phony achievement for people to get all worked up over.

IN PART BECAUSE I find modern-day game shows to be overly loaded with trivia.

Such as on Friday, when there were answers to awkwardly-worded questions that basically relied upon a person’s ability to quote dialogue from the Inspector Clouseau character from the old “Pink Panther” films – or bits of chatter from old
Monty Python” flicks.

I’m not kidding. One of Holzhauer’s Friday challengers took a financial hit when he couldn’t quite remember the line that “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!!!”
Not exactly an example of our society’s “best and brightest” showing off their intellect.

PLUS I ALSO couldn’t help remember moments in game show history when, back in 1958, an academic type, Charles Van Doren, appeared on the game show “Twenty-One” and ran up a winning streak.

It gained him national celebrity. But it was later learned that the show’s producers provided Van Doren with questions in advance, along with answers.

Now I’m not saying that Holzhauer’s ability to answer so many questions on a variety of topics is somehow equally coached or fraudulent. If anything, a part of me couldn’t help but wonder if the buzzing devices that let Jeopardy contestants indicate they want to try to answer a question were somehow working improperly.

It just seemed that Holzhauer was quick on the draw to answer so many questions that the other contestants also knew. Which could be a matter of skill, of sorts.

IS HOLZHAUER’S REAL skill that he has an itchy trigger finger (or thumb, actually), rather than superior knowledge. Would this “professional gambler” also be skilled at competitive video game playing.
Will Holzhauer get similar treatment someday?

Of course, it’s possible that many people reading this will wonder how I’m thinking of Van Doren (who died earlier this month at age 93) at all. There may be many who, if they know of the matter at all, will think of it simply as the subject matter of the 1994 film “Quiz Show.”

Which reduced the life of Van Doren (who eventually went on to write for Encyclopaedia Britannica) to a character played by actor Ralph Fiennes. Could the Holzhauer tale someday become a cinematic tale worthy of a film?

Or at the very least a movie production that people watching Netflix will get to see? That is, unless Holzhauer’s lucky streak comes to an end in upcoming days – and James reverts back to being another anonymous nobody scouring the streets of Las Vegas.


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