On The Light Side: Sometimes it pays to know too much stuff

July 19, 2004|MIKE MARSEE

So what does Ken Jennings know that I don't?

Plenty, it turns out.

Jennings, perhaps better known simply as "The Jeopardy Guy," has accumulated more than $1 million by winning more than 30 consecutive games on "Jeopardy!" Meanwhile, my accumulated winnings still total exactly squat.

I'm a little bit awestruck by Jennings' success, but I'm also a little bit envious. I've always been at least a casual fan of game shows, and I've always imagined that I could pocket a few thousand dollars on a show like "Jeopardy!" or "Who Wants to be a Millionaire."

I don't watch "Jeopardy!" every night, but I've watched it more than enough to believe that if given the right combination of categories and competitors, I could parlay some of the minutia rolling around in my head into cool cash.


Of course, I could never do what Jennings has done. As impressive as he is, he's obviously a robot. But this fellow has also become something of a hero to anyone who has ever been called a nerd.

And yes, that includes me. I wasn't a pocket-protector-wearing, pants-too-short kind of nerd, but I did well enough in school to be considered nerdish from time to time.

Still, I'm not in this guy's league. Jennings has had well over 1,000 correct answers - make that questions - during his winning streak, which might still be going when "Jeopardy!" begins taping next season's shows in August.

Watching this guy at work for even five minutes will leave you shaking your head in amazement. No one, for instance, should have known that Austrian pop star Falco - surely you remember "Rock Me Amadeus" - is buried in Vienna, but Jennings did. And I thought only Falco's career was dead.

This guy knows opera and rock and roll, history and literature, science and politics. He even breezed through a category on journalism earlier this week, and all this time I was convinced nobody knew that stuff except journalists.

But I've always felt like I could hold my own for at least a little while. I'm fairly fast when it comes to rattling off answers, and I think I'd be smart enough to keep my mouth shut on subjects I know nothing about.

In high school, I was once an alternate on a team our school sent to a KET quiz show, but none of my fellow geeks had the decency to come down with something that would give me a shot at the signaling button.

Since then, my experience with game shows has been the same as for many of you: just looking. Still, there will always be a part of me that would like to try to get the job done in the studio instead of in my living room.

I'll never get a chance at one of the all-time great game shows, MTV's "Remote Control," which has long since gone off the air but left us with the memory of the best losers' exits in the history of TV games.

Still, I'd like to think my catalog of knowledge goes beyond old TV shows, and I'd like to think I could even make off with some of the money Alex Trebek and Regis Philbin throw around. But I can also imagine an alternate scenario that goes something like this:

I'm standing between a research librarian and a rocket scientist as Alex Trebek says, "Here are tonight's categories: South American dictators past and present, advanced astrophysics, the other civil wars, political parties of Eastern Europe, impressionist painters of the 19th century, and finally, rap. Your selection, Mike."

"Uhhhhh buy a vowel?"

Or I might just go into a complete meltdown, standing there with glazed eyes and flop sweat rivaling Albert Brooks in "Broadcast News." When I come to my senses, I'm in the car on the way to the airport, leaving town with an empty wallet and only a few trinkets to show for my efforts.

"What are 'lovely parting gifts?' Alex?"

Mike Marsee is a sports writer for The Advocate.

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