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Jeopardy for Seniors

Published in ChicagoNow, June 13, 2019

My father was a huge fan of Jeopardy. He had an extraordinary memory for certain categories: history, sports, art, classical literature, and music and entertainment from the 1940s. I remember him shouting out the answers he knew and grumbling about categories like popular culture that were out of his wheelhouse. Much like his obsession with watching or listening to every inning of a Tiger’s baseball game, his daily devotion to Jeopardy was for old people. I avoided it like the plague.

That all changed when my husband, who occasionally watches Jeopardy if he has a break in his schedule, taped the show so I could see James Holzhauer. Jeopardy James won almost $2.5 million in 33 shows, averaging $77,000 per game. A professional gambler, he played the game backwards, starting with the most difficult and highest value questions, hunting for daily doubles, and betting everything he had when he found one. He had the right answer 97 percent of the time. It was actually exciting TV viewing.

What I learned, however, was that even in categories that played to my knowledge base, I couldn’t come up with the right question to ask quickly enough. Now I was the senior watching Jeopardy, and I was not nearly as good as my father had been. I found myself saying “right” when James came up with the correct question/answer. Even worse, I often said, “I know that but I can’t think of the name.” Worst of all, I had to admit far too often that I had no idea what the response should be and simply say, “How did he know that?” or, “He’s amazing.”

Granted, James has the advantage of being 39 years younger than me. His hands are nimble, not handicapped by slow response time and arthritic fingers. In fact, he is a professional sports gambler in Las Vegas (whatever that is), and I am the woman who put a quarter in a slot machine on her honeymoon, got a payout of many quarters, and quit feeling rather happy. So, no, I would never have risked huge sums of money on daily doubles and in Final Jeopardy.

Perhaps there should be a Jeopardy for Seniors version of the game. After all, the host, Alex Trebeck, is 78 years old and should have empathy for those of us with children who are older than Jeopardy James. The rules would have to be changed. First, the buzzer would have to be the size of a Jitterbug phone with a button that senses when you know the answer. Acceptable question/answers should include:

  • I used to know that.

  • Give me a minute to remember the last name.

  • I read about that in the paper.

  • It’s something from Shakespeare.

  • Can I phone a friend?

Alas, no one would want to watch this show. My peers and I live it every day. Where did I put my glasses? Where are my keys? Call my iPhone so I can find it. What was the weather forecast again? Better pull over to put the address into Google Maps. Did I leave my reader in the car? Upstairs? In the kitchen? At the nail salon? If you have crossed into senior status, you know the drill.

I used to laugh at my father’s addiction to Jeopardy. Now I am humbled to discover he was better at remembering trivia than I am at his age. Since James lost, I have stopped watching Jeopardy. It’s just too hard to know what I don’t know anymore.


by Laurie Levy
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