Like so many of our older relatives, Jeopardy! has spent the last few years busily getting online.
The venerable game show has mastered most of the basics by now: How do I change my banner image? How can I connect with my friends on social media? How do I upload my videos to the cloud? Now the show, along with Canadian TV god/host Alex Trebek, is taking its web lessons to next level: How do I go viral? Which types of content increase engagement? What is “zaddy”?
To celebrate its 35th season under Trebek, Jeopardy! is doing something decidedly un-Jeopardy!—which is to say the show is doing something new. The season, which kicked off last week, will feature a first-ever Jeopardy! All-Star Game featuring many beloved nerds from seasons past who will—now is the time to fluff your favorite divan and get the Tums ready—compete on teams. Teams! Jeopardy!, so long a bastion of survival of the fittest—or at least, well, myelin sheathiest—will now join forces in a battle to the dea—uh, consolation prize.
But before we get to all that, we need to talk about the facial hair.
The rumbles began over the long summer offseason. In July, Trebek said that he would probably hang up his blazer for good when his current contract expires in 2020. This was both reasonable—our guy is 78 years young and has been hosting game shows since the Nixon administration—and utterly not: Are we, the collective bespectacled masses, really supposed to imagine a future without Trebek saucily dealing factoids and quiet disappointment? The host went so far as to suggest a couple replacement candidates: Alex Faust, who does play-by-play for the Los Angeles Kings, or Laura Coates, a radio host and CNN analyst. As for us? We wept.
Is it going too far to suppose that the prospect of unlimited Galapagos vacations in the not-so-distant future has brightened Trebek’s mood? He pledged to go on RuPaul’s Drag Race. He signed on to moderate, of all things, a Pennsylvania gubernatorial debate in October. And then, in June, he turned up to do the weather with the ABC affiliate in Washington, D.C.: “He’s gonna turn things around,” he said of Bryce Harper and a Nats-threatening evening rain report. And that’s when we saw it ... the thing on his face … the beard:
Trebek has a history of marking Jeopardy! anniversaries with grooming modifications: In 2014, he celebrated season no. 30 with a return of his mustache, which had been absent for the previous 13 years. So when he returned to the syndicated airwaves this month with his new facial fringe—what he called “my George Clooney–Sean Connery look”—he let audiences know it was all for them. Specifically, it was theirs—that is, ours—to decide what to do with. “To beard, or not to beard: that is the question,” @Jeopardy tweeted. “Vote now! #AlexTrebeard”
Democracy, alas, appears to have broken down. While the results of that poll show a 73-27 split in favor the Trebeard, our host and savior began to whittle away at it. First, it became a goatee:
On Wednesday, we returned, briefly and tantalizingly, to the promised land. Alex Trebek, patron saint of the soup strainer, king of the caterpillar, lord of the lip doily, first son of the flavor saver, once again donned a mustache:
Best mustache in Hollywood – hands down. Don't @ us. pic.twitter.com/pYfZspmdtW— Jeopardy! (@Jeopardy) September 19, 2018
But by Thursday, Trebek appeared in another video to break the bad news: “Sorry to have to tell you, folks, but voting is now closed,” he said. “And we’ve determined that the winner is … my wife, Jean. She voted for me to be clean-shaven, and so that’s it.”
Still, there’s at least a chance that the mustache lives on. Because Jeopardy! episodes are filmed weeks or months before they actually air, there hasn’t been a way of knowing what the current state of the Trebeard/Trestache might be. That changes on Saturday, when at 10 a.m. Pacific/1 p.m. Eastern—sorry, were you planning on sleeping in? I think not—Trebek will host an honest-to-god live draft for the Jeopardy! All-Star Games. The draft will be shown on Facebook Live, a platform whose name Trebek has lately been pronouncing like it’s a fine French cognate.
The festivities are still some time away: The All-Star Games itself will run from February 20 to March 5, a light at the end of whatever the season that comes after six months of humidity is. Details on structure are scant, at least for now. We know that there will be six teams of three players each, all of whom are super geniuses from tournaments past. There are the top three finishers from the 2017 Tournament of Champions, Buzzy Cohen, Austin Rogers, and Alan Lin. There is cyborg king Ken Jennings. There’s Brad Rutter, the all-time highest-earning contestant in Jeopardy! (and game show) history; Daily Double fiend Roger Craig; light of our collective lives Leonard Cooper (and star of the 62nd best episode of TV this century, ahem); Julia Collins, who holds the second-longest streak after Jennings; Final Jeopardy dominator Ben Ingram; Slow Smiler (no, seriously, it’s incredible) and boom!-deployer Matt Jackson; crusher of dreams Colby Burnett; Monica Thieu, who won the 2012 College Championship when she was technically a high school senior; possible, though not probable, murderer Larissa Kelly; Daily Double hunter (and real-life friend of Kelly) David Madden; Pam Mueller, who first appeared on Jeopardy! during a previous Trebek mustache dalliance; Jennifer Giles, the owner of a terrific shirt; former poker champ and insistent poker-style strategist Alex Jacob; and George Clooney (and presumably beard) aficionado Seth Wilson. The tournament’s hype video, and I say this with complete sincerity, is sick, as the kids say.
A team competition means, inherently, a ratcheting up of Jeopardy! strategery. Game theory has long nibbled at the cerulean edges of Final Jeopardy wagers; now, we might see it much more frequently as teams deliberate—and we might also get a window into those deliberations themselves, a chance for the humble viewer or teammate to demand why a certain choice was made. Will we see a blaze of demonic Daily Double–hunting à la Arthur Chu? (Chu was notably not included on the All-Star Games rosters, which may or may not be a hint about what the Jeopardy! powers that be think of his methods, or his op-eds, or both.) Will Austin Rogers and Roger Craig be dissuaded from betting big with their teammates’ winnings on the line too? Will the team-picking aspect of the live draft bring back dismal memories of P.E. classes past, leading to vicious inter-nerd warfare?
We’ll know soon enough. Get your buzzers ready—of the question-answering variety, Alex, not the hair-trimming kind.