Andy’s Weekly Thoughts: August 7–11, 2023

Happy Sunday, and I hope everyone has had an excellent summer week. I definitely have some things to say this week in my Weekly Thoughts column—I can hardly believe that it’s only been six days since the show’s Season 40 plans were announced. (It certainly felt like a lot more!)

Why These Contestants?

One question I’ve seen over the past week or so, at least since Monday’s announcement about the show’s plans for early Season 40, is, “Why are recycled clues okay for these returning players but not new ones?” Honestly, I believe the difference lies in the amount of preparation time afforded the players before this appearance. It appears the players invited to return under these circumstances have only been given about three weeks’ notice. It’s quite likely that prospective new contestants in the contestant pool would have been studying for months and very easily could have intentionally focused on the eras that the show was most likely to take repeat material from, making it very easy to have recently studied material that they may face in their shows. (It’s a strategy that I began floating on this site a few months ago). However, it is significantly less likely that a player, given only three weeks to prepare for an appearance on the show, would be able to study the vast materials required to get a significant “return on investment.” Thus, I would say it’s quite likely that “surprise these contestants so that they can’t put in significant study time” was definitely a consideration when scheduling the start of Season 40 amidst the WGA strike.

I May Be Covering The Games, But I’m Certainly Not Obligated To Cheer For Anyone

While my current plan is still to provide my usual coverage of the show during the WGA strike—and that plan will continue until and unless the WGA asks media outlets to stop coverage—it remains a fact that the WGA considers Jeopardy to be a “struck production” and that these contestants will be crossing a physical picket line to appear on the show. (And, yes, the WGA is planning on physically picketing Jeopardy on the August 15 resumption of production.) And that’s why I’m dreading the opening weeks of Season 40. The players from Seasons 37 & 38 that I most enjoyed watching are the players who are least likely to want to cross a picket line to return, and the players that I least enjoyed watching are the ones who are going to have the least amount of compunction about crossing (and some may even be openly thumbing their nose about union solidarity.) In fact, as this season header says, I am certainly not obligated to cheer for anyone who has crossed the picket line to appear in these games, and I may even find myself cheering against these players in a Tournament of Champions situation, hoping that they run into players who will take zero mercy on them in a ToC situation.

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The New UK Version Has Wrapped Taping Series 1, And I’m Concerned

For fans following the new UK version of the show, hosted by Stephen Fry, ITV’s 20-episode order has concluded taping. According to my sources, the episodes are set to begin airing in mid-to-late October. For those needing a refresher, the UK version definitely has some changes from the US version: the shows will be 60 minutes long and contain two Jeopardy! Rounds, one Double Jeopardy! Round, and then a Final Jeopardy!, and the dollar values will be £25–£50–£75–£100–£150 in the opening round.

Those are certainly going to be disappointing developments for British fans of the American version of the show, many of whom were certainly hoping for the American pace of 61 questions in about 20 minutes (the American version of the show runs for about 20 minutes if commercials are removed, and has for most of the past 30 years). Three rounds over an hour’s broadcast works great for celebrity incarnations of the show, as it allows the celebrities to vamp and be themselves without actually cutting into the content. Still, it would not surprise me if the British show felt long and drawn out.

Honestly, that’s a major reason why I think that the American game show institutions (like Jeopardy) and the British game show institutions (like Mastermind and Countdown) have never really been able to gain a footing on the other side of the Atlantic: whoever is in charge of the “game” when the show gets transported feels that they need to make unnecessary changes to somehow make the game palatable to the other country’s audience. Interestingly, the show that brought game shows back into the American consciousness in the late 1990s, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, made no changes to the format between the 1990s UK and US versions—and we all know how that turned out. (In conclusion: A good game is a good game and will be universally enjoyed if you leave well enough alone—and I fear that ITV should have left well enough alone and just given UK audiences a 30-minute game, just like the American game, even if dollar values started at £50 in the Jeopardy! Round)

The encore presentation of the Tournament of Champions begins on Monday—I hope everyone enjoys it again the second time!

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13 Comments on "Andy’s Weekly Thoughts: August 7–11, 2023"

  1. Bill Vollmer | August 13, 2023 at 3:36 pm |

    you answered my question from last week about why the “recycled” (and, possibly unused) game material was “good” enough for the players in the competitions that will start season 40, and, not “regular” contestants.
    Your reasoning seems to me to be absolutely logical. Too bad Micheal Davies couldn’t have given that as a clearer explanation than the one he gave in the Jeopardy podcast discussing the revised plans for the start of the season.

  2. One theory about the use of recycled contestants that I have not seen yet – is that if someone were to be able to cram the j-archive – there is the danger of that person racking up Holzhauer-Ian totals. Having these tournaments caps the prize money that Jeopardy would be paying out

  3. I know one of the individuals who will be back, and he is someone who is a fantastic player and a wonderful human being. He was snubbed for the initial Second Chance Tournament (literally the perfect candidate–a near $20K Coryat, faced a tough returning champ, a dramatic late game twist that cost him the win), but he sucked it up and dedicated literally dozens of hours of his time to helping prep other people who did get the invite. That he gets another shot at the stage, even under these unfortunate circumstances, is really fantastic. It is sad that some people who don’t know him will likely reduce his story and his journey down to “scab”.

    I won’t know all of the people who come back, but I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt. I’m sure many of them have stories that are just as compelling as the fellow I do know. It would take a lot to get me to root against a Jeopardy contestant–kind of hard to hate on regular people up their living out their dreams.

    • And there are just as many others who are standing for labor solidarity and not crossing a picket line, even at the expense of giving up on that dream.

      So, I’m not going to stand in the way of anyone that is choosing to judge someone for crossing a picket line.

      • Your website is a wonderful resource for learning about and interpreting the show. My experience as a viewer would be significantly impacted without your insightful daily commentary. By continuing to provide this service, you are contributing in a more meaningful way to the continued success of Jeopardy than any individual contestant crossing the picket line physically.

        Like the contestants, you find yourself in a complicated grey area. I’m sure some people will be upset with you for continuing to promote the episodes that are being filmed with recycled clues and featuring contestants/staff who have crossed the picket line. I’m equally sure you have devoted an enormous amount of thought to this decision, and I trust you have made the correct decision for yourself, given your specific circumstances.

        I choose to have the same faith in the contestants. We’re not all in a position to turn down potentially life changing amounts of money in well-meaning but ultimately futile displays of solidarity. I know some (often very vocal and passionate) people like to see the world in black and white, and they are entitled to their opinions as well, but I have optimism that the Jeopardy fanbase as a whole is more inclined to nuance and kindness than most others.

  4. I agree with John here. A lot of those players from Season 37/38 didn’t have the best experience because of Covid, and I think it’s fair they get another shot. Moreover a lot of worthy contestants who deserved a second chance spot didn’t get one, so I feel like hating on them for choosing to play with recycled clues is a bit too harsh. It’s not easy to turn down an invitation to compete on the big stage once again. I understand your point of view Andy but I just feel that the contestants are in a tough spot, especially ones who could have had longer runs if not for facing strong champions.

    • You are mischaracterizing my argument.

      Let me make one thing abundantly clear here:

      I am not judging contestants for choosing to play with recycled clues.

      However, I am judging contestants for choosing to cross a picket line.

      Without labor solidarity, striking workers lose a significant amount of their leverage in a labor dispute; thus, refusing to cross picket lines is a very easy way to strengthen the cause of striking workers.

      • You’re right but it’s hard for them to not cross the picket line when an opportunity like that comes up(being able to compete on a show you’ve always dreamed of competing on). I’m just saying that judging them is a bit harsh. It’s a tough situation for those contestants to be in and it’s not always easy to refuse. Nobody ever knows the reasons behind why the contestants chose to do that. It’s not easy.

  5. Well, then.

    First, I submit that in the capacity you assume for yourself as a media member covering the show, that when you are watching new first-run episodes, you are “in the press box,” so to speak — and thus, it is inappropriate for you to cheer for or against any contestant under any circumstance. Admitting to doing so is an improvident statement. Preferences are human nature, of course, but yours should not be discernible from either your coverage here or any other public-facing statement you make. I think that you occasionally did not meet this standard over the course of Season 39, including during Masters. Going forward, readers should take this into account when consuming your coverage.

    More important and notable is your position on contestants crossing the picket line. It’s the position I would expect you to take. I see no reason why it would be different for new contestants, had the show elected to begin the season with regular play, than for the previous players the show is actually bringing back. It seems reasonable to infer that while the show remains struck by the WGA, you take a negative view of anyone entering the Sony lot to play the game. And actually, that’s no longer an inference; you’ve outright said so in the comments. (Indeed, last Monday, you said “I don’t really see the difference between ‘regular play’ and ‘bringing back old players’ here” in reference to “the moral dilemma” faced by the contestants; thus, nothing in the first section here bears on that dilemma.)

    Last week, you went hard against those calling for boycotts of the new season while Jeopardy! remains struck. Their desired outcome is the suspension of production of new episodes until the WGA and AMPTP resolve their dispute. You called them “a small, yet vocal, minority of angry fans,” deploying the same response to them as that used against those critical of Mayim Bialik’s performance.

    So, let’s review. You support the resumption of production of new first-run episodes and Season 40 starting as scheduled on September 11. You oppose the participation of contestants that is absolutely necessary to effect that resumption of production. Those two stances appear to me to irreconcilably contradict one another.

    How do you square that? What would you do in Michael Davies’ position? (Before you respond: we’re dealing with the actual situation on the ground, not some ideal or hypothetical; and I said Davies’ position, not that of Tony Vinciquerra or Carol Lombardini, so “settle the dispute by giving the WGA everything they want” doesn’t address the question I’m putting here.)

    • Matt:

      Do remember that in the specific context of a viewer boycott, the WGA is not calling for that, as it believes that a decrease in ratings could lead to writers not having positions to return to.

      Thus, I would say that it is a reasonable position—in fact, one shared by the WGA—to be against competing on the show, but not be against watching it.

      • You’re not getting off the hook that easily; this reply does not respond to the question you were actually asked, but it does indirectly lead to the answer to that.

        What you address here is: given that the show intends to go forward with production, is it detrimental to labor solidarity to watch the episodes made under those circumstances? You say no, and you’ve more than adequately explained and defended that position.

        What I’m putting to you does not stipulate the resumption of production; the question is, should it resume at all? You also said last week that “It is clear that the show believes it is right to act the way it is here” by going back into production; but you were silent as to whether you believe that is right. Your rhetoric against the “small, yet vocal, minority” was so stridently opposed to those objectors. I took that to mean that you disagreed with not only their means (boycott), but also their end (new episodes not being produced). That may have been an overextension of the inference from your remarks. If you are opposed to contestants playing, it necessarily and ineluctably follows that at the bottom of the matter, you would prefer that production be suspended for the duration of the strike. But for whatever reason, you have not seen fit to say so more clearly and forthrightly.

        John is right that this is a complicated grey area for you. It has occurred to me that while the show remains in encore presentations, there may be a drop in site traffic, and consequently ad revenue to The Jeopardy! Fan would be reduced. In contrast to the usual hiatus duration of six weeks, extending the pause of new episodes past the first week of September would be an unplanned loss of income to the site. In that respect, you’re potentially in a position similar to the non-WGA members of the show’s staff. I don’t think it necessary to state whether, and to what extent, this may be the case — but it has crossed my mind.

  6. Do any players ever take any mercy on Jeopardy! opponents in any game?

  7. Some contestants that do cross picket lines may have their own personal beef with unions or may feel that if Ken falls under a “subsection(?)” that makes it OK for him to host then they should be able to play, or they may be under the impression that it is only the duty of members of OTHER UNIONS to not cross picket lines. Up to recently I had held that last idea but would just not cross picket lines (not that they occur much in the South) mostly because it would just be too much bother to do so — though I deliberately did no UPS business when their workers were on strike because I totally agreed with the workers demands. However, I must admit that had I had any chance to be on Jeopardy! and any chance to do well on it, it would be very hard for me to choose to turn it down.

    Anyway, what I am getting around to is that with the idea of the show going on for the future of its writers, I do not think that any players who choose to appear should be disparaged (unless maybe someone KNOWS that the player or a close family member is a union member or professional writer).

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