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Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Ken Jennings misses question on taxes: no question taxes won't be missing HIM!

Engrave the name of Nancy Zerg alongside those of King David, Luke Skywalker, the 1983 N.C. State basketball team, and anyone else who's ever toppled the reputedly invincible. Seventy-five consecutive nights - equal to three and a half regular seasons of the average sitcom - came to an end this evening on "Jeopardy" as Ken Jennings proved he was flesh and blood after all. But at least he gets to walk away with a cool $2,520,700 before Uncle Sugar comes knocking for his share of the loot.

Incidentally, it was something related to the IRS that dealt the deathblow to Jennings' insane streak. "Most of this firm's 70,000 seasonal, white-collar employees work only four months a year," Alex Trebek read aloud during the Final Jeopardy round. Jennings' answer in the form of a question: "What is FedEx?" (it was actually "H&R Block"). Zerg, a realtor from California, succeeded where Jennings failed and no doubt will get to do a Top Ten List on David Letterman's show. I guess all good things must come to an end but look at the bright side: Jennings held his own longer than anyone, he's donating a huge chunk of the money to his church, and Trebek gets a long-earned respite after having to come up with so many clever comments about one contestant!

But you wanna know why it is that Ken Jennings' accomplishment is REALLY mind-boggling? Moreso even that he did so well for so long, I'm stunned that someone like him got onto the show to begin with. I tried out for "Jeopardy" this past May in Nashville and lemme tell ya: it's very tough to make it all the way to a taping in Hollywood. First you have to take a 50-question timed exam with questions much more difficult than get asked on the show. Make 35 or better and you get asked to stay with everyone else who scored high (which I didn't, by the way: admittedly, I'm not all that keen on 17th-century Italian opera) for a brief interview and a mockup round of the game. Then you go back home. If you're lucky you'll get notified a few months later that you've been asked to fly to Los Angeles (on your own nickle) to be a contestant on "Jeopardy". But even THEN you're not guaranteed anything: out of all the folks that show up at Sony Pictures Studios, only a fraction will be selected (by an independent third-party group) to go before the cameras. If you don't score a chance then, you can always retake the exam the next time the "Jeopardy" crew comes to town but again, it's never a surefire thing. I met a guy who'd aced the exam four times, wound up passing the one that I took with him also, and so far as I know he might still be waiting for that coveted invitation from Merv Griffin Entertainment. So for someone like Ken Jennings to slip through ALL those cracks and get on the show and then stay there... well, you can sorta appreciate how the odds got licked bigtime.

Anyway, congrats Nancy Zerg and congrats to Ken Jennings on an awesome run!