Sunday, May 2, 2010

Ghosh on Jeopardy, Part IV: Final Jeopardy (and a parallel to legal education?)

[Our final installment of Shubha's appearance on Jeopardy. And as I promised, here is one other writing you can see from him, perhaps a bit more technical, his coauthoed West casebook, Intellectual Property.   Where we left off, Shubha was about to compete. --Alan.]

   When my turn to compete came up, I had watched four previous tapings and felt relatively confident.  But standing behind the podium is, needless to say, different from sitting down, spouting out answers, and being entertained. I was now the entertainment; people would tune in to be enthralled by a real contest.  Cameras rolled. Theme music filled the silence of the sound stage. Holy shit, I said to myself quietly, mindful of the FCC. At that moment, whatever the tallest water fall in the world might be, it did not match the cascade of facts that was emptying from my brain. [Angel falls? -- Alan] Game play is twenty-two minutes, which strikes me now as an overestimate. Time was demarcated by the flash of questions and the ding of buzzers, which by the way took a real effort to control. My biggest fear was going into the red and at one point I could have gone either way.  My reaction when I got the question right was used in the promo for the week’s broadcast.  There were times when I felt on a roll.  Obama Successors was amazingly enough a category. Other times though I knew I was spouting the wrong answer when the right one was starting at me.  Should it ever be useful, the difference between a capital theta and capital phi is now permanently imprinted.  At one point, the judges stopped the game for an interminable period of time to see if my answer “prehistorical” was close enough to what they wanted “prehistory.”  What the…?  There were also several moments when I was sure that the answer I gave was the correct one.

But this game is not about analytical prowess.  Knowledge may be power but in the heat of Jeopardy battle, facts are money. At the end of it all, a dollar separated me from a tie with first place. The result was satisfactory intellectually: a respectable showing that allowed me to go home with an interesting set of experiences.  But that rationalized a terrible sense of disappointment which combined regret at not making a big money payoff (second place gets $ 2000 and third, $ 1000) with a feeling that I could have done better.  No robot can be programmed to replicate the feelings I had at the exact moment when the game was over.

As they tape the end credits, the contestants stand on the stage next to Alex Trebek and engage in banter.  Alex asked me what kind of law I was involved with, and I said intellectual property. “That must be really interesting with the Internet and all, “ he said.  “Yes, the Internet and other things,” I replied, launching into a law professor shtick on the reasons intellectual property is interesting. He interrupted me: “Well, I think all you need to protect intellectual property is a good gun.”  I stared back at him: “Yes, well, that seems to be how the rap industry operates.”  Blank stare back.  Last of the end credits. Usual disclaimers. Copyright notice. Jeopardy theme crescendo. And that was a wrap.

The contestant coordinators now had the job of escorting us out of the studio. More forms were signed. We were told we would get out checks four months after the show’s airdate. A canvas Jeopardy tote bag was handed to each of us as we were told where we could meet our cab to wherever we were going. Outside, the late afternoon sun nearly blinded me. I thanked the contestant coordinator for inviting me on, and he nodded cordially. Sequestration over, I was reunited with my spouse as we made our way off the lot with two other contestants.  There was a crowd of people outside the sound stage.  A bunch of young kids shouted out my name. “Shubha, you should have bet two more dollars.” I shouted back: “I didn’t have it!” and then added some platitude about studying hard.  My spouse explained that they were students at Culver City High School.  The Jeopardy announcer, during one of the breaks between tapings, introduced them as part of a special educational program the show had with local schools. My spouse had spoken to one of the kids who told her that attending the tapings was part of his community service.  I laughed, “What next?  Will the State of California have convicts compete to get time off for good behavior.” I resisted punning on “Double Jeopardy.” [Which would have been funny to anyone except Alex? -- Alan] As I said good bye to two of my fellow contestants, who were also headed back home, I realized  that the show would never lack for people to compete on whatever promise the show offered.

There are in your face parallels between being on a game show and being in legal education: the promise of monetary success, the piling on of information and its regurgitation in countless exams, the winner take all structure of the contest. But of course they are just trite analogies which the patient reader can indulge. Legal education, of course, serves a higher purpose and has real impact. Gameshows are true lotteries; junk food for the educated. At the end of my experience on Jeopardy, I have to say, to quote a literary character some may recognize, I didn’t learn a damn thing. [Jeff, who said that? --Alan] I did have a fun time in the process though. Yet, when thinking about all the facts I acquired during the day, about make-up artists, about game show rules and regulations, about Watson, about my fellow competitors, I wonder if I am not missing some cohesive lesson into which all these clues assemble. If I strain hard enough and think quickly, maybe I can come up with the right response.
    What is an entertaining diversion from what really matters, Alex?

[Editor's note:  I watched this show Friday and Shubha does not say, but he should be very proud.  He did extremely well, and Alex commented much the same.  Shubha answered some unbelievable questions, in one case to his own obvious surprise.  I am not sure of his epilog, since for some people game shows are what really matters--but there is no doubt in my mind that Shubha competed admirably and well represented the U. of Wisconsin.]

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I agree with Alan: you did a great job! Plus, who knew you were such a gambler??

Posted by: Bill Gallagher | May 3, 2010 10:01:45 AM

I can't stand it when contestants on Jeopardy bet a dollar, or some number ending in a single dollar; "$2501" or something like that. It's like, "oooh look at me, I'm SOOOO CRAFTY and CLEVER that I can just barely squeak--tee-hee, I said _squeak_--past the other loser moron shlubs who DIDN'T bet a dollar." At least bet a hundred or something, make it look like you want to _win_ the _game_ and like you want to get your jollies from rubbing everyone's face in it.

Posted by: Grainger | May 5, 2010 4:03:21 PM

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