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Jeopardy’s Five Best Music Moments

Sure, selling almost 180 million records worldwide is pretty special. As is winning 17 Grammy Awards. But last week, Beyoncé’s legacy was bestowed with arguably the highest of all honors: She got her own category on Jeopardy. Personally, our favorite part was Alex Trebek’s delivery of the phrase “Jay-Z is featured on this Beyoncé song that mentions ‘that liquor get into me.’ ”

In case you missed this glorious moment, you can see it here:

See also: An Illustrated Guide to Beyoncé’s Insight and Empowerment

Jeopardy, of course, has a long and rich history of taking stuff that’s cool and sexy and For The Kids and making it sound extraordinarily awkward and sanitized and, rather ironically, really damn stupid. Here are some of our favorite musical moments from the show’s history.

1. We’re guessing a student intern was responsible for this.
In 2012, Jeopardy reduced much-lauded emotive indie quintet Fleet Foxes to “folk-rockin’ dudes” with this clue. To celebrate, Sub Pop Records tweeted a link to the incident and hashtagged “Trebek!” for good measure.

2. ‘The 1990s Rap Song’
In a particularly delightful episode of Jeopardy: The Battle of the Decades, there was, rather magically, a category titled “The 1990s Rap Song.” The questions — er, answers — included clues relating to Notorious B.I.G., Shock G, and MC Hammer, but it was Trebek’s enthusiastic renditions of Cypress Hill’s “Insane in the Brain” and Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” that truly made this a special moment in TV game show history. This is possibly the most animated we’ve ever heard him.

3. Who Is Buddy Holly?
Sometimes, under pressure, contestants do crazy things on Jeopardy. One time, a guy actually ended up face-down, passed out, during Final Jeopardy, and another lady got laughed at super-hard by the audience for giving “Chris Farley” as a response to a Johnny Cash clue. However, it’s difficult to imagine how one woman, in response to the clue “His widow Maria Elena and actor Gary Busey were on hand when his star was dedicated outside Capitol Records in 2011,” came up with this:

We hope that when someone finally makes a movie about Ice-T, Gary Busey is allowed to at least audition. We would pay to see that.

4. Most Bizarre Clue Ever
We’re pretty sure you could put this in front of every single member of Mötley Crüe and even they wouldn’t answer it correctly. Who the hell came up with this?

5. ‘It’s a Rap’
Plucky contestant Mary holds her shit together really, really well until the very last moment of tackling the “It’s a Rap” category. What sends her over the edge? Trebek doing Public Enemy, that’s what. “I don’t know why that’s making you laugh so much!” the host declares. We think you do, Trebek. We think you do…


 

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Trebek: I’ll Take ‘Possible Retirement’ for 200

Very few things have remained the same since 1984. The highest grossing movie that year was Beverly Hills Cop; now, we have The Hunger Games. Michael Jackson’s Thriller ruled the airwaves; 28 years later, Adele’s 21 hasn’t budged from Billboard’s top spot. And who had heard of the Internet yet besides Al Gore?

Alas, one thing has certainly not changed: Alex Trebek as the host of Jeopardy!. The 7pm segment, at this point, really needs no background description (search: Daily Double). The show created the career of knowledge-superstar-turned-Twitter-riot Ken Jennings and indirectly revived Sean Connery’s, for better or worse.
Trebek, the trivia show host we all know and love, has been coming back to the same workplace for almost 30 years nowBut, according to the New York Post, that could all end pretty soon.

In an interview that will air tomorrow on “FOX News Sunday with Chris Wallace,” the apathetic know-it-all (and we don’t say that offensively) said, “Yes, I have been thinking of retiring.” But the slick questionnaire is stuck between his passion and his legacy. In two years, the show will be a 30-year-old and, after mentioning how much he enjoys hosting the show, Trebek added his true anniversary goal: “Put in your 30. And go help people.

In February, Trebek first admitted his possible retirement to Newsweek in a story about WATSON, IBM’s creepy supercomputer that made its public debut on the show. He simply stated that he didn’t “want to do this forever” – a quick reminder to us that Trebek is human and the show will technically have to end at some point.
But no one can imagine Jeopardy! without Trebek. And no one wants to – continuing a show that was made famous by a single character is always a risky TV move. Sometimes, it can work – the cases of The Office post-Michael-Scott or the later seasons of M*A*S*H* are perfect examples – but, other times, it can backfire terribly, especially for game shows. Just think Drew Carey replacing Bob Barker on The Price is Right! or Meredith Viera after Regis Philbin on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

 

In other words, the day Will Ferrell’s impression of Alex Trebek becomes nostalgia will be a sad day for all of us who tune in at 7 on weeknights to shout out obscure Motown albums from the late 1970s or plants that live underwater. And that is today’s Daily Double.
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LIT WITS

Throw on your best tweed suit and biggest glasses—Nerd Jeopardy is back for a new year of testing your love of books. Just like the game show on television, Nerd Jeopardy requires all answers to come in the form of a question, and you and your team (three members per group) can go big by betting it all in Daily Double rounds and Final Jeopardy. Although you won’t walk away with fistfuls of cash, other prizes—of the kind that are valuable to nerds—will be awarded. The highly validating evening for English majors is presented by FSG’s Work in Progress, the website that gives a behind-the-scenes look on the publishing process. Ryan Chapman of FSG plays Alex Trebek.

Tue., Jan. 17, 7 p.m., 2012

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POP ART

Videomaker/performance artist Ryan McNamara will be playing an Alex Trebek of sorts tonight at PopRally’s Pop Quiz at MOMA. And just because drinks will be served does not mean you can cheat! Well, you kind of can. After you register your team (of six people or less) for the trivia match, you’re free to make mental notes of the 130 works in MOMA’s “Contemporary Art From the Collection,” which the questions will be based on. Battle it out in three rounds of art trivia and games, with winners taking home prizes, such as MOMA memberships, and dance to a DJ set by Tanlines. Good luck!

Tue., March 29, 7 p.m., 2011

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Double Jeopardy

Ken Jennings, a software engineer who won 74 games in a row on Jeopardy!, is well aware of the limits of trivia. During his 2004 winning streak, the longest in the show’s history, he’d give his answers tentatively, as if he had no idea what was coming out of his mouth. When his daily earnings were announced at the beginning of each episode, he’d shake his head—”Is that in disbelief, or do you not want the money?” host Alex Trebek finally asked. In his 53rd game, he accidentally gave the answer “What is a hoe?” (instead of “What is a rake?”) to a question about long-handled gardening tools, and then sheepishly giggled at the impropriety.

Jennings disappeared from work for a summer while he crushed his opponents (studio rules prohibited him from telling his colleagues what he was doing). He sat through every contestant orientation, patiently listening to the same instructions, with the same jokes. His new book Brainiac is both a chronicle of his time on the show and a rogues’ gallery of figures in the trivia world, many of whom are still dwelling on questions they missed, years ago. Their devotion to Jeopardy! goes well beyond the realm of hobby. Alex Trebek, waxy and impenetrable, becomes a figure of total authority. Jennings thinks of slipping him a note: “Do you like me? Check One. Yes/No.” He alternates between feeling guilty and thrilled about his remarkable flair for irrelevant facts. “Could trivia be America’s last meritocracy left standing?” he asks. A call from the show reduces him to “quivering blob of nerd Jell-O,” but he’s relieved to find that other contestants are equally consumed by the game. Many prepare by watching episodes standing up, carping over pronunciations on the show’s message boards, and lugging around a fairly standard selection of books: The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide, Classical Music for Dummies, The Baseball Encyclopedia, Don’t Know Much About the Bible.

Jennings sees an important distinction between “the flower of trivia and the weed of minutiae.” A good question is nostalgic and combines high and low culture. When Jeopardy! first aired in 1964, NBC executives recommended the content be dumbed down to a 13-year-old’s level, but the show maintained its standards. In his academic survey of the game show Rules of the Game, Olaf Hoerschelmann writes that the early quiz shows, even the rigged ones, prided themselves on their egalitarian potential. The sponsor of The $64,000 Question explained the logic: “We’re trying to show the country that the little people are really very intelligent and knowledgeable. That’s why the show has caught on— because of the little people.”

Deep knowledge has never been the goal. In his memoir Prisoner of Trebekistan, Bob Harris, a Tournament of Champions finalist who gives a play-by-play of almost every game he was in, explains how to appear well-read without reading. “Here’s absolutely everything else I need to know about Robinson Crusoe,” he writes. “A shipwreck was involved. Some guy named Friday. Oh, yeah: an island.” He won $135,000 on the program. His relationship with Jeopardy! is more intense and rapturous than Jennings’s. Four months before he went on, he began studying 12 hours a day, and ate only the kinds of danishes, protein bars, and tuna croissants offered at the studio café. He used a ballpoint pen as his practice buzzer, which he frequently called his Weapon. (Jennings used his son’s Fisher Price ring-stacking toy.)

Harris often refers to himself as a failure (he got rejected from the show at least four times before making it—possibly more, he can’t remember) and sees his Jeopardy! studies as a pivotal point in his intellectual coming-of-age. “Trebekistan” is his name for a world of unspecialized learning, where “art and math and geography and science stop pretending to be separate subjects, and instead converge in a glorious riot.” Throughout the second half of the book, he can barely resist trailing off into bits of trivia (the font gets smaller as he begins talking about the origins of Life Savers and the mating rituals of bonobos). Both Harris and Jennings explain with some remorse that they see their lives as preparation for the show: Anything is a potential clue and, in turn, a house payment. The game has become a bite-sized national curriculum. With flashy lights and thousands of dollars, it’s one of the few institutions to reward a broad, liberal education—useless in almost all other contexts.