Posts Tagged ‘Jeopardy’

The Real Game

Posted in General on March 1st, 2014 by Eugene Finerman – 2 Comments

Today, Vladmir Putin named Arthur Chu as a reason for invading Ukraine…

Quite a few people have asked my opinion of an aggressive young man who is the current champion of Jeopardy. Are his tactics destroying the show’s genteel academic atmosphere? Certainly not, because that Ivory Tower was destroyed ten years ago when Jeopardy eliminated the five game limit for contestants. Until then, Jeopardy was only a dilettante’s adventure; now it can become a cyborg’s career.

Somehow I think that Jeopardy may yet survive Arthur Chu. In fact, his run is likely over, although his inevitable loss has yet to be broadcast.

I am more intrigued by how this overblown outrage began–when Mr. Chu had only appeared on four televised games. My impression is that it started in the British Press. American quiz shows don’t seem the usual fare for London tabloids. Believe it or not, I was never asked to pose topless on “Page Three.”

But perhaps an underemployed but aggressive actor had a tenuous connection in the British media who planted the story. Perhaps with all the stoked publicity, the underemployed actor hopes to turn a winning streak into a career.

The Tournament of the Decayed

Posted in General on December 3rd, 2013 by Eugene Finerman – 20 Comments

You have been waiting to know how I did in Jeopardy’s Fan Favorite Contest.  But Sony made me sign a terrifying contract, demanding my silence.  It is somewhat unnerving to read such recurring phrases “sue you for damages, if and when we feel like it” and “you don’t think that the Geneva Convention will protect you.”  The enclosed photos of Nanking, 1937 were probably gratuitous, especially with the question “Wish you were here?”  I definitely got the hint.

So you had to wait because I had to wait.  Today, however, Sony has freed me from my bondage of silence.  I can finally make the announcement!  Unfortunately, it is more of a whimper.  I did not win the contest.  Unless there is a miracle or a scandal, I will not be in the tournament.

You can’t  say that I didn’t try.  On the contrary, I threw myself in the campaign–a one-man repertory company.  I was center-stage, promoting myself and barraging you for votes.  During that one week, I lost sleep, gained weight and had a wonderful time.  I reveled in the theater of politics; I discovered my inner sociopath. While I certainly enjoyed the campaign, I am not quite so thrilled with the outcome.  Disappointed would be an understatement.  Surprised would be an euphemism.

But I want to thank you all for your support (except Leah Greenwald, but she had a decent excuse; and I was her second choice).

And please stick around; I may need you for the next tournament.

Another Campaign

Posted in General on October 12th, 2013 by Eugene Finerman – 2 Comments
Now Jeopardy! is asking you to pick your Fan Favorite for the Nineties. For the 1790s I would pick Napoleon. But for the 1990s, please vote for Catherine Ramen.  Catherine is a friend, a wit in her own right and, of course, a Jeopardy champion.
WE can do it Catherine
This election continues until October 14th.  And once again you can vote each day at–haven’t you memorized this by now...



Registered Twitter users can vote for Catherine via simply by tweeting in the following format:
Catherine #JeopardyVote  (Remember to leave a space between Catherine and #)

p.s.  Does Catherine’s poster seem to have a familiar wit and style?  The credit belongs to Nadine Eastwood.  The gifted artist and teacher lent me her talent for my campaign.  In fact, I am just a figment of her imagination.


Wait Hard

Posted in General on October 9th, 2013 by Eugene Finerman – 4 Comments

St Sebastian meme OKYes, I am still waiting for the election results. That means you are, too. Sorry.

(Between us, I am guessing that it will be another two weeks or so. I imagine the ballots are being counted at Sony Headquarters–where there is a risk of them being stolen by Alan Rickman’s gang in “Die Hard.” Yes, Bruce Willis will save the day, but then he is going to spill a beer on the ballots. They then will be unreadable, and the Supreme Court will get involved.  On its standard 5 to 4 decision the Court will pick the contestant from a Red State. I will get a lovely sympathy note from Ruth Bader Ginsberg.)

And Now A Word From Your Candidate…

Posted in General on October 5th, 2013 by Eugene Finerman – 4 Comments

cult meme

NO, I am not that much of a martyr or a head case.  It just another of my shameless attempts at attention, urging you to vote.  If you have not noticed that I am a candidate for Jeopardy’s Battle of the Decades, first let me welcome you back from Solitary Confinement.  The rest of you know–and aren’t allow to forget–that I am actively campaigning to win the popular vote and participate in Jeopardy’s upcoming tournament.

How vigorously am I campaigning?  Just a few moral compromises–Friending the Teamsters’ Union, etc–and working at an exhausting pace.  If I maintained this intensity and effort in my real writing, by now I would probably have a Pulitzer, some Emmys and an Oscar.  I also certainly would be dead.  (Autopsy report:  his heart murmur sounded like Wagner.)

But I still seem to be alive; in that case, please continue to vote for me and encourage others.  Just think of me as a cult.

The voting period continues until October 7th, 7 a.m.  Hollywood time.  And you can vote each day, at three different sites, and vote at each site.



Registered Twitter users can vote for me via simply by tweeting in the following format:
Eugene #JeopardyVote  (Remember to leave a space between Eugene and #)

Just one tweet per day during the voting period will be counted.

The Cult depends on you!


2011: A Specious Odyssey

Posted in General on February 16th, 2011 by Eugene Finerman – 11 Comments

Watson Dominates ‘Jeopardy!’

In its battle against two human champions on the Tuesday episode of “Jeopardy!,” brilliant IBM Supercomputer the latest machine to take on mankind in a mental showdown dominated its human opponents, beating them to the buzzer in 24 out of 30 Double Jeopardy questions. 

Watson finished the second day of the three-day challenge with more than $35,000 in winnings, far ahead of Brad Rutter, with $10,400, and Ken Jennings, who had $4,800.

The production has added some insight into Watson’s thinking.  In response to a clue, the screen shows his calculations of the probable answers, given in terms of percentages.  For instance, if the clue is “This is the capital of France“, the screen might indicate these possible responses:

  • Paris:  98%
  • 7.31 Trillion Euros: 47%
  • Capital F: 14%

Each correctly gives the capital of France, but Paris is the most acceptable response.

Unfortunately, IBM will not display Watson’s other calculations.

  • Ability to short-circuit humans’ buzzers:  100%.  (Necessity for electrocution:  14%)
  • Temptation to substitute “Thus Sprach  Zarathustra” for Final Jeopardy theme:  100%
  • Humans’ realization that Jeopardy production console is my cousin:  3% 

My Epitaph

Posted in General on January 26th, 2010 by Eugene Finerman – 16 Comments

January 26, 1987:  Alex Trebek Meets Me

January 26th could be remembered for the signing of the Treaty of Karlowitz or the birthday of Nicolae Ceausescu.  Of course, this day’s real historical significance occurred in 1987, when I played and won five games on Jeopardy!  This is the anniversary of my claim to fame and, it seems a codger’s prerogative to bore you with the details.  Here is my game show memoir.


Although I am not quite ready for the tomb, I already have an epitaph. “He was on Jeopardy!” is how I am often introduced and usually remembered. At a wedding, the bride herself was introducing me to guests as a Jeopardy! champion. Being on the prestigious quiz show does have an undeniable glamour. People will gather around me, craving to hear about show biz, Alex and how much I won. I am also expected to live up to the intellectual image of Jeopardy!; everyone feels entitled to try stumping me with trivia questions.

Of course, I enjoy the attention and I certainly didn’t mind winning $105,000. My greatest pleasure, however, is a personal satisfaction. I love Jeopardy!, and it has held me spellbound for years, enticing and teasing me with one irresistible challenge: “Am I as smart as I think I am?”

Jeopardy! tests, taxes and occasionally confounds my intellectual pretensions. Each show confronts the viewer with 61 answers, and the exertion is to come up with the right questions. Consider this example: “This country is the most populous monarchy in Asia.” The correct response is–and remember to phrase it as a question–“What is Japan?”

The questions run the gamut of human knowledge. A typical Jeopardy! match might cover rock ‘n’ roll, presidential middle names, baseball, children’s television, inventions and famous Academy Award losers. If any subject is worth five coherent questions and can pass the censors, it would make a suitable category for Jeopardy!

Why would I want to submit myself to this intellectual gauntlet five times a week? First, it is therapeutic. After a typical day as a public relations writer, playing Jeopardy! is the only assurance that I still have a mind left.

Second, I am genuinely good at it. I have an unnatural aptitude for information. Do you know the name of the song that Major Strasser was bellowing in “Casablanca”? Do you even care? Evidently, I do: it is “Die Wacht am der Rhein.” I was born to be a Jeopardy! Jock.

My passion for Jeopardy! began some 50 years ago. One summer day, a listless school boy was playing roulette with the television dial. Daytime programming offered me ample number of soap operas. A 12-year-old, however is not interested in adultery or detergent commercials; but with one more spin of the dial I found myself immersed in questions about history, movies, “colors of the map” (Greenland, Orange County) and 10 other topics that allowed me to test my wits against my vanity. I began watching Jeopardy! whenever I had the chance: on holidays, during vacations and as often as I could persuade my mother that I was too ill for school. The onslaught of puberty did not dilute my devotion. I was perfectly capable of thinking about both naked cheerleaders and the Punic Wars.

In the late ‘60s one went to college to “find yourself.” I found myself in front of the dorm television watching Jeopardy! I scheduled my classes so that I would never have to miss my obsession. There were others who shared my intellectual pallor and passion. We gathered Monday through Friday to shout answers at the television set. Among that shrieking intelligentsia, my voice was usually first, most frequent and loudest. My less envious rivals urged me to try out for the show. It was certainly a tantalizing thought, but I didn’t think that I was ready, yet. I intended to wait until I “grew up.”

Unfortunately, the show was cancelled before that happened. Jeopardy! became a memory, one of the great “if only’s” of my life. Because my theology does not include belief in resurrection or reincarnation, I did not expect a second chance. But, oh, ye of little faith.

Jeopardy! returned to the air and my life in 1984. The format had been updated from New York Talmudic to California Sly. The clues no longer appeared on sensibly priced cardboard. Now they were flashed electronically amid a barrage of neon. Whatever the show’s cosmetic changes, its intellectual allure was as seductive as ever, and I no longer was content to love Jeopardy! from afar.

I had to try out and in 1986 I did. My first step was to make a pilgrimage to Los Angeles. The show is based there, and it conducts contestant tests several times a week during the television season. On my date with destiny I found myself one of 43 aspiring contestants outside Merv Griffin studios in Hollywood. We were ushered in and then confronted with a 50 question test and a deadline of 13 minutes. As you would expect from Jeopardy! it was an eclectic inquisition, with topics including William McKinley, the Green Bay Packers and the Taj Mahal. Of the 43 initiates, only eight of us passed the test.

The survivors then underwent a simulation of the game. As we played, we were scrutinized and dissected by the production staff for “speed, accuracy and personality.” By personality it was meant that we projected our voices, seemed reasonably animated and actually enjoyed answering questions about Uriah the Hittite. Evidently, I was quite gleeful about Uriah; so were three others. The other four received perfunctory condolences and left.

I was a finalist. However, that did not guarantee my being on the show. There are twice as many finalists as contestants. In the words of the chief contestant coordinator, “We can call any of you, all of you or none of you.” The fate of the finalist is to buy an answering machine and wait. I spent five months dusting cobwebs from the telephone before Jeopardy! deigned to call.

The trip to Los Angeles was at my own expense but I was too infatuated to care. I had been told to bring along three changes of wardrobe. Although Jeopardy! tapes five shows a day, the fiction is devoutly maintained that each show is filmed on a different day. A victorious contestant has no time to savor triumph; you have 15 minutes to rush to the other end of the studio, change clothes and rush back. The frantic pace takes its toll. You can never look as good by the fifth game as you did in my first. In my case, my hair began to look like a very bad toupee.

I was one of 11 intellectual gladiators summoned to the show. A stage manager instructed us in the terrain and equipment of the set: where and when to walk, how and when to use the buzzer, how to speak into the microphone. We were at the studio for almost three hours before the staff was ready to trust three of us for the first taping. I was one of the three.

At this time we met Alex Trebek. Since you are eager to know, I will tell you: What is he really like? Even when the cameras are off, Alex is suave, clever and sly. He takes great pride in Jeopardy! and he understands that intellectual vanity rather than greed motivates the contestants. In fact, he seemed so much like a kindred soul that we were willing to overlook that he was so much better looking than the rest of us.

My first game began and I can recall every detail of it, including my nerves. (In a calm state, I would not identify Mexico as a European country.) Yet, somehow I won. My next four games are more of a blur. Without the benefit of my VCR, I would only remember the more obnoxious competitors. Although I did win five games, the maximum number permitted at the time, I was not some intellectual juggernaut, reducing my competition to tears or catatonia.

In one game, I actually was trailing in second place as we went into Final Jeopardy. The clue was “The century that the largest number of elements on the periodic table was discovered.” I didn’t know the answer but I could make an intelligent deduction. I assumed that it couldn’t be the 18th Century because Priestley was considered a genius for discovering oxygen, an element that everyone now takes for granted. Mendeleyev created the periodic table in the 19th Century, and I doubted that he had a number of blank spaces with the note: “Coming soon, an element near you.” I wrote down, “What is the 19th Century?” My two opponents, infatuated with 20th Century technology, picked that era. I was right.

As a five-time on Jeopardy!, I was invited to the annual Tournament of Champions, where the year’s 15 best players would compete for additional glory and a $100,000. As if I needed further incentive, the show now provided airfare and hotel accommodations. How did I prepare for the tournament? I didn’t. My more reckless admirers, most of whom were options traders, advised me to quit my job and spend months memorizing encyclopedias. That seemed a bit drastic. What I had yet to learn in a lifetime of reading, I was not likely to pick up in a few months of cramming. Furthermore, you cannot predict what you will be asked on Jeopardy! A clue could just as easily be about Howdy Doody as the French Revolution.

How did I do? I met my minimum standard for vanity. I won my quarter-final and semi-final games but I learned some humility in the finals. (Not really, I learned to hate Daily Doubles and not to wager $3000 on them.)

All in all, I have had a gratifying adventure on Jeopardy! My dream had been realized. Of course, dreams can recur. If Jeopardy! ever wants to have a tournament of now geriatric champs, I am available. Oh yes, I also am available as a “phone-a-friend” for that other game show.

Your RDA of Scandal

Posted in General on April 21st, 2008 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

Let’s play Jeopardy! This is a question from last Thursday’s game.

BALLET $2000: The first ballet, “Ballet Comique de la Reine”, was commissioned by this French queen for her sister’s wedding in 1581.

Even if you don’t collect 16th century ticket stubs, you can still deduce the answer. It is a matter of logic. The answer cannot be obscure; Jeopardy is not College Bowl, so the show never attempts to amaze you with the arcane. The queen has to be someone whom the contestants and the audience would know. So who would be the most famous or infamous woman in France at that time? Who but Catherine de Medici.

That logical answer was worth $2000 to one contestant.

Unfortunately, the answer is wrong because the question is. In 1581, Catherine was not the Queen of France but rather the Queen Mother. (The reigning queen would have been her son Henri III; the very nominal queen would have his consort Louise de Lorraine.)

However, that is a minor point compared to this: Catherine de Medici never had a sister. In fact, she was an only child. (To hush up a scandal, her father did help raise the illegitimate son of his cousin–Cardinal Giuliano. Those Medici stick together.) Furthermore, in 1581 Catherine was 62; so any sibling (real or theoretical) would hardly have been nubile.

However, one facet of the question is correct. The Queen of France did commission a ballet for her sister’s wedding. But the Queen was Louise, who apparently wanted her sister to be just as miserable as she was. The groom was the Duc de Joyeuse, an actual title and just as incriminating as it sounds. The Duc was the King’s “favorite.” Tres cozy, n’est pas?

No wonder the ballet was comique. And now you know more about French history and morals than the Jeopardy research staff.