The program, in its current (Alex Trebek-hosted) incarnation, premiered when I was three. By the earliest time that I could remember, it was firmly established on the station and in the time slot where I feel it was meant to be — 7:00 p.m. on WABC — and where it still makes its home today (and similarly on WPVI, the Philadelphia ABC affiliate). I didn't watch it every night, but I certainly saw it enough to remember the old sets and the first couple versions of the Think! theme.
I first had vague thoughts of trying out for the show after graduation from high school. I still have a red Cornell sweatshirt that I originally bought back when I was an undergrad there, and now, when I pull it out, I imagine the missed chance to wear it during either of the College Championships in 2000. But the opportunity passed — not least because during my first two years at Cornell, I didn't have my own TV on which to watch, and other, non-Sony Pictures Entertainment-approved methods of watching the show were few and far between. That problem was only exacerbated after I joined the Navy; I didn't spring for my own cable service in the barracks at NNPTC, so while I heard plenty of the buzz surrounding Ken Jennings's historic run, I caught very few of the games as they originally aired. Completing naval nuclear propulsion training and reporting to a submarine didn't enhance my viewing opportunities. After getting out of the Navy and moving back to my parents' place on Long Island, I caught the show more often, but it still wasn't a nightly habit. One game I certainly remember seeing was during the 2012 College Championship, when a semifinalist from Columbia extolled the virtues of that school's "marching band." That comment was a rare instance of me actively wanting an opponent to lose.
After moving here to the Philadelphia suburbs, I continued to catch the show on occasion, including some of Arthur Chu's run. But it was an unexpected turn of events that made me all-in on Jeopardy! as I am today. Through a co-worker, I re-connected with someone who I attended Cornell with, who had been a contestant in 2011, and we had dinner in Center City. Among the many things we discussed was her appearance on the show, including what Alex Trebek is really like, to the limited extent the contestants interact with him. Simultaneously with this, the hiatus between Seasons 30 and 31 was showing reruns of the Battle of the Decades, which brought back 45 of the best J! players of all-time playing for a grand prize of a million bucks. Once the new season began, I had the series set for recording on my DVR, with my rear end plopped on the couch at 7 p.m. whenever possible. It's been that way ever since, although being on rotating shift work now, I often watch the show at 6:30 a.m. the following morning after coming home from work. Whatever the hour, I watch every game, I track my Coryat scores and Final Jeopardy! record, and even have compiled some figures and statistics about the show. Last week, I took the online contestant test for the second time — and (presumably) passed for the first, so now I'm hoping for the email invitation to an in-person audition.
As much as Jeopardy! itself has had a positive impact on my life, acting as a respite from my nuclear license training and being on shift, its role as a gateway to its fan community has been even more so. A few weeks into Season 31, I started live-Tweeting episodes under the #Jeopardy hashtag. And through doing so, I discovered... JBoard. The incredibly exhaustive J! Archive. Keith Williams, the 2003 College Champion, who runs The Final Wager, which changed the way I watch the game, by making me intimately aware of when a contestant has blown a shot to win — and more than once inducing me to fist-pump at the screen when a number is revealed showing a player's depth of preparation. Andy Saunders, who now runs The Jeopardy! Fan, home of the aforementioned #JeopardyLivePanel. All of my fellow #Jeopardy live-Tweeters, howsoever they opine on the game and the players...
...and especially all of the players on Twitter who I've had the pleasure of interacting with. Players who left Culver City with only a consolation prize, and players who now have the honor of being known for all time as Jeopardy! champions, and players who were invited back to play in the Tournament of Champions. Players who've endured the wrath of Alex (like current champion Susan Cole, who got slagged for her love of "nerdcore hip-hop"), and players who've endured the wrath of knowledge-less armchair commentators who see fit to spout off on attributes far removed from how they played the game. Players like Jocelyn Dorfman, whose taste in baseball I may disagree with but respect nonetheless; players like Terri Pous, who gave us a glimpse behind the scenes of the show; and players like Talia Lavin, who courageously chronicled the harassment she endured following her appearance last season.
One and all, these players make Jeopardy! the great program — nay, the great institution — that it is today, as Trebek himself is fond of saying. I may quibble with how they play the game, if it disagrees with the strategy I think gives them the best shot to win. But win or loss, agree or disagree, I'll defend each and every last one of them against criticism of their interview topics, mannerisms, or looks. They've defied the odds, been in the arena, and done the damn thing. For that alone, they're deserving of the utmost respect — and I hope I get the chance to join them, especially before Alex Trebek makes his final farewell.