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By changing the rules and allowing champions to play indefinitely, 'Jeopardy!' made a mistake

When I was in junior high, my saintly Italian mother watched Jeopardy! every weekday at 10:30 a.m. This was long before the invention of the VCR, so she would write down the questions and answers IN SHORTHAND! I'd wander in after football or basketball practice, and she'd grill me.

That's how I learned, among other things, that Jacqueline Cochran was the first woman to break the sound barrier. My mom did this for me for years, and I am eternally grateful. When I went off to college, people would meet in the Student Union to watch and play the game. I used to earn spending money by playing against entire groups of stupid frat boys, if you'll pardon the redundancy. I am, for whatever reason, a walking encyclopedia of useless crap.

But now, the show has completely derailed. Some genius (and when I say "genius," I really mean "idiot") on the show decided that perfect wasn't good enough, so let's tinker with the rules. Whaddya say?

The decades-old tradition of having a strict five-day limit on champions was abolished, and Alex Trebek announced that winners could stay on, theoretically, forever. And now, it looks like that very thing is happening. Some guy named Ken Jennings, a software engineer from Salt Lake City, had won (as of deadline) 29 days in a row. He was nearing $1 million in winnings, and he hadn't really been seriously challenged. He was piling up $30,000 or $40,000 a day and making it look easy.

I don't care that the guy is a nerd; I like nerds. And I certainly don't care that he puts serious whuppins on people; I like winners. My anger stems from the fact that there was absolutely no good reason to change the rules and that the show has become much worse for having done so.

First of all, Jennings has an unfair advantage over any and all competitors simply due to his having been on the show for so long. Part of the thrill of Jeopardy! was always that there was only one winner, and no matter how dominant that player was, he had only five days to amass his fortune. That prompted players to be a little crazy with their wagers and to take chances. With $800,000 already in the bank, this guy doesn't have to sweat anything; he can play conservatively or take chances, knowing that all he has to do is win so he can keep coming back indefinitely.

Furthermore, having played all those days, he has a distinct advantage in pushing the button. He has the timing of the show down pat and can probably recognize Trebek's vocal inflections better than somebody coming in cold. He definitely has an edge over everybody he plays from here on out.

I mentioned this to some friends, and they said that I was just upset that there was somebody who could beat me. So, the next day, we watched the show when it aired and kept track. I got a couple more right than he did, but that's easy sitting in the living room. Who knows how I would have done on stage, in front of an audience, under the lights, facing a 28-day champion?

I admit that when I daydream about playing against that guy, I get a Weird Al-like vision of the show starting, and the announcer listing the categories as "Software Trivia," "Guys With Narrow Shoulders," "The Tithes That Try Men's Souls," "Fun Facts About Salty American Lakes," "Men Named Joe Smith" and "Game Shows That Used to Be Cool."

He, being the champion, would get to go first, and by the time I figured out how to work the buzzer, he'd have $15,000 and have hit the only Daily Double in the first round. And the only category left would be the one about shoulders.

The producers of the show screwed up royally, and they have to know it. They need to admit it and go back to the old way as soon as Jennings loses. I've spoken to dozens of long-time Jeopardy! fans, and not one likes what's going on. It's the ultimate example of something that wasn't broken and therefore had no need of being fixed.

A friend of mine is starting an Internet campaign to get Jeopardy! back on track. (I told you I liked nerds.) And Jeopardy! fans are like Star Trek geeks on speed. All that those other guys do is wear fake ears and learn languages that don't exist; Jeopardy! guys take their stuff seriously.

We'll keep watching and playing among ourselves. We won't openly root against him, because that not in the Jeopardy! Code, and it's not his fault that the producers are a bunch of buttflakes, but we won't cry when he's gone. And then we'll set things straight with that Trebek fellow, just like Sean Connery does.

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