I mentioned a couple weeks ago that I hate the host of the Australian version of the TV game show The Chase. Andrew O’Keefe somehow exudes both insincerity and buffoonishness.
Maybe I should go a little easier on poor Andrew. I know from personal experience that it’s easy to make a buffoon of yourself under the glaring studio lights of a TV game show.
Off on a brief tangent:
Back when I was in the ad agency business, I handled the creative end of the business. My partner Dan handled the business end. We often went about our jobs without seeing each all day long. So we got into the habit of calling each other almost every weeknight to discuss the day’s developments, to go over numbers, to make plans, and to coordinate our efforts for the next day.
Over a period of time we realized that we were calling each other at about 7:25 each evening. We were both Jeopardy fans and that was right about the time Alex Trebec asked the Final Jeopardy question. Dan and I are like brothers — we love each other but bicker constantly. We both desperately wanted to think we were the smarter half of the duo and could answer more of those Final Jeopardy questions than the other guy.
He claimed he was better at Jeopardy and I just as vehemently claimed I was. We probably had this argument several times a week for ten years. Maybe longer. Our employees were sick of hearing it. Our clients were sick of hearing it. Waitresses in our favorite restaurants were sick of hearing it. Strangers on the street were sick of hearing it.
We finally decided that the only possible way to settle this dispute was to try out for Jeopardy and see what happened. We made the appointment. We drove to Hollywood and joined a small auditorium full of other would-be contestants who each undoubtedly believed that they were the smartest person in the room.
The contestant coordinator stood on the stage in front of us and explained that we would be given a written test with fifty questions that had been asked on recent Jeopardy shows that had not yet aired. They handed out the questions, told us we had fifteen minutes and rang a bell. Fifteen minutes later they rang the bell again and collected our answers.
While a group of production flunkies scored all the tests, the contestant coordinator explained what would happen next. We had to score 80% or better to proceed to the next step. She said they would call out the names of the people who didn’t score 80% and if your name was called you were required to leave the room immediately.
They began calling out names. Dan and I looked at each other content in the knowledge that our Jeopardy skills were far superior to those of the lesser beings seated around us.
And then the unthinkable happened. They called out Dan’s name. He was shocked. Dumbfounded. Horrified. He sat next to me waiting for my name to be called so we could drive back to the office together.
But an amazing thing happened. They never called my name. I had passed the Jeopardy tryout test. I got to stay for the next round of tryouts and he didn’t. He stood just inside the door to wait for me, but the contestant coordinator saw him lingering and said, “Sorry, but you must leave the room if you didn’t pass the test.” It was the ultimate humiliation. He had to go outside and wait for me in the parking lot.
Let me just tell you that I was feeling pretty damn superior at that moment. Dan’s the smartest guy I know, so I figured that if I could beat him I could beat anyone.
The contestant coordinator then announced that the remaining contestants, those who had passed the test, would play a sample game in front of the show’s producers. Passing a written test is one thing, but answering questions aloud in front of a crowd is a completely different matter.
Of course, on the actual game show three contestants vie against each other and must be the first to buzz in with the correct answer. They did a half-hearted attempt to recreate that atmosphere by giving each of us one of those little bells you ding at the front desk of a hotel. First one to ring in gets to answer the question.
Piece of cake, I thought as I watched the first two trios play their practice games. The categories were current events, history, geography, science, everything right in my trivia wheelhouse.
Then it was my turn to play. The categories included opera, religion, and country music. I know nothing about any of them. Absolutely nothing.
Anyone who knows me knows I do not handle stress well. And anyone watching that practice game would have immediately realized that I was stressed. Every time I couldn’t answer an opera question, a few more beads of sweat ran down my neck. Every time I came up blank on a religion question, my brow furrowed a little deeper. Every time I came up empty on a country music question, my muscles tensed just a little more.
But even a blind pig occasionally finds an acorn. They finally asked a question to which I knew the answer. I was so stressed out that I screamed out the answer without ringing my little bell.
“Sorry, Jim,” the contestant coordinator said. “You know the rules. You must ring in before you answer.”
Then they asked another question to which I knew the answer. Once again I screamed out the answer without ringing in.
The contestant coordinator shook her head in disappointment and said, “Remember, Jim, you must ring in.”
Then they asked a third consecutive question to which I knew the answer. Again I screamed out the answer.
The contestant coordinator looked at me like I was a complete moron. And she was right. I knew I was finished. They weren’t going to put me on that TV game show no matter how quickly or accurately I could finish a written test. They would never entrust their highly-rated, nationally-syndicated TV show to someone who was too damn dense to follow a few simple rules.
They dismissed me. Dismissed me dismissively, I guess you might say. I forlornly left the building in search of Dan who I found sitting equally forlornly in his car waiting for me. Of course, he expected me to lord my triumph over him. Instead I told him exactly what had happened and I’m pretty sure my miserable practice performance made him feel much better about his own abject failure on the written test.
Let me admit one thing here that I would never admit to Dan. And if we ever end up in court I will gladly perjure myself and deny that I ever admitted this: Dan may have failed that written test, but the man has never caved to stress in his life. Had they put him on the air he would have walked away with a wheelbarrow full of money and the satisfaction of being a Jeopardy champion.
But, of course, that is just the idlest of speculation. Mere supposition. Pure guesswork. And it doesn’t matter in the slightest.
Because on this world and in this life I will never let him forget that he failed the Jeopardy test, but I passed it.