I don’t worry much about spoilers. There are so many books, movies, and television series that I can’t possibly keep up. Sometimes I’m going to know what happens before it happens for me. That’s fine. I don’t consume books or movies to be surprised by the plot, I consume them to be immersed in a story. Storytelling, at least the kind I like best, is more about the journey than the outcome.
But game shows are about the outcome. That’s why I was so disappointed to see the media report James Holzhauer’s Jeopardy! defeat before the program aired in most of the country. What was the point of that? What was gained by spoiling the discovery for millions of viewers?
Last week a friend said to me that there are two sorts of people in the world: Jeopardy! people and non-Jeopardy! people. He was among the latter group, but even he was aware of the buzz surrounding James Holzhauer, an incredible player who, in about a month’s worth of games, broke numerous single-day earnings records and amassed nearly $2.5 million in winnings. The friend asked if I was rooting for Holzhauer or against him. Neither, I told him. But when someone finally beats him, I hope it’s a woman.
Yesterday, I got my wish. Holzhauer fell to Emma Boettcher, a university librarian from Chicago. It was a great match. I wish I could have watched it without knowing what was coming. For weeks my husband and I have been tuning in every evening with the knowledge that no one wins forever. If we couldn’t make it home in time, we set a recording of the program. On those days I knew we’d have to guard against spoilers. But I didn’t realize that I needed to guard against spoilers before the episode aired.
Look, everyone knows that game shows are pre-taped. The contestants, the producers, and the crew know the outcome in advance, but they aren’t supposed to talk about it. No one should have leaked the outcome of this episode and outlets that chose to report the news should rethink their policies. Take note, media: Just because we live in a time of breaking news, it doesn’t mean that every piece of news must be reported immediately. A game show is not on par with political misdeeds, weather emergencies, or Supreme Court decisions. Some news can wait. And it should.
Nonetheless, I’m thrilled with the outcome. As I said to my friend, I wasn’t rooting against Holzhauer; it was a pleasure to watch someone play at such a high level, but it was an even bigger pleasure to see the man, a professional gambler, defeated by the woman, an English major, a librarian, a scholar. It is just the right optics for our times.
Speaking of optics, I was also thrilled to see Holzhauer bolt from his assigned spot to give Boettcher an enthusiastic high five before the cameras could cut away. He lost graciously and with honor. If our politicians are among the non-Jeopardy! people, it’s a real shame. They could learn something from the contestants and from the game.
Congrats, Emma Boettcher. And congrats, James Holzhauer. You both played exceptionally well and behaved honorably. No matter what happens next, you are both winners. Nothing can spoil that.
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