“So, you had a pet when you were five? Tell us about that.” That is the kind of question asked of Jeopardy contestants. They’re nervous, have possibly been sitting around for five to ten hours, and now they have to tell a story about themselves. The longer they stay on the show, the more questions they get asked and the fewer compelling answers they have. As Jeopardy host and crosser of picket lines, Ken Jennings said, “It’s a little cringy.”
In a recent sitdown with The New Yorker, Jennings lamented the mid-show interviews, “Like, why is this happening now?” Jennings asked. He’s not wrong. The interviews can be brutal. People train for years and years to be natural in front of cameras. Yes, some people just have that talent, but when you’re cycling through hundreds of contestants a year, you’re going to have people who can’t land an anecdote.
The interviews also get harder the longer you stay on the show. The more times a contestant is interviewed, the more stories they have to have. They could even end up telling five or six stories in one day, depending on how well they are doing. That’s hard! As Jennings said, “I have nothing but sympathy for them because I did not have seventy-five good stories. I didn’t have three good stories.”
Reactions to the interviews can also be rough. Most hosts try to make the best of a bum story, but you can only force laughs so much. Sometimes a story may not be as interesting as the contestant thinks, and you have to watch them land with a thud. A producer likely goes through the story with them first, but again, Jeopardy has notoriously long shooting days, and I’m sure things can slip through the cracks.
It seems cruel to stop in the middle of a game and force someone to talk about themselves. Even mic’d-up baseball players get to keep playing as they answer questions. Also, those questions are often about how they play the game. Maybe Jeopardy can start doing the same. “So, Matt, tell me, what did you think about the taco salad we had for lunch?”