• Henry Miller

On Broadcast TV:

I haven’t been exposed to regular syndicated TV since high school. It’s easy to forget that TV has just kept chugging along while I haven’t been watching. Honestly, the strangest part about it is non-targeted advertising. I’m just so used to having all my ads catered to me on the internet, so getting the generic potpourri that you see on daytime television is a weird change. Life alert, Cialis and the liver failure there in, super soakers, “have you or a loved one been affected by mesothelioma? You could be entitled to a class action lawsuit…”

All my targeted ads online have a certain kind of self awareness to them. My ads like to call me an asshole for using Dove soap or scream at me to go buy a Mountain Dew.

And then there’s the back-to-back political advertising that’s been going on for the last 6 months or so. I don’t remember them being this numerous when I was young, but maybe I just blocked them. It blows my mind how many there are. It’s like literally every other ad, maybe more. Maybe I’m just not the target audience but flooding the airwaves just doesn’t feel like it would be effective, but I guess I’m wrong as everyone seems to do it.

In these Corona-times the fam and I have been watching game shows on the daily and without a doubt Jeopardy is my favorite. Jeopardy has the highest integrity and skill cap of any evening game show. It’s not just knowing facts too, although that’s obviously a big part of it. Knowing the facts is the mechanical skill of the game, the dribbling of the ball or the swing of a racket. There’s a ton of nuance in the strategy of the game. Your buzzer position, how you choose your categories, the bets you make on the Daily Doubles and in Final Jeopardy. The strategy of the game emerges once you watch a shameful amount of Jeopardy.

The metagame has shifted a lot over the years. It used to be that players would start at the top of the board (the lower value but easier questions) and move towards the bottom. This was good for two reasons, it let the contestants warm up to the game a little, and also it was easier on the viewer that likes to play along at home. But more recently, especially in the high levels of play, that metagame has reversed thanks to this guy, James Holzhauer. He starts at the bottom of the board with the harder high value questions so that he can rack up points quickly. He also bounces all over the board and chooses his categories really fast to disorient his opponents. But beyond all that he’s looking for Daily Doubles so he can go all-in on them. This is how he set the one day winnings record, over $100,000 in one game. He plays aggressive, most contestants play to not lose, but James plays to maximize his winnings, and like in any sport played at a high level he assumes that he won’t make any mechanical errors (in this case answering questions wrong) and bases his strategy around that.

The show was bleeding money to him so they tried a number of ways to get him off the show, the first and most obvious was to make the questions harder. But that ended up with the opposite effect, he actually won even more because he was the only one that could answer the questions. So they tried the opposite strategy, and when he lost it was the easiest game of Jeopardy in the show’s history. They effectively made it a buzzer speed contest.

You can see that others have studied his strategy and they apply it to varying degrees of success. In the college championships you can see that a lot of contestants apply his theory, but generally their fundamentals aren’t good enough. They’ll start off in the 2000s before answering a couple of wrong questions and end up in “Potent Potables for 400, Alex”.

Shoutout to Trebek, man's national treasure.

Wheel of Fortune comes on afterwards and is a strictly inferior game. The sheer randomness of it definitely takes away from the skill aspect. Sometimes people will be really good at playing the game but then spin the wheel, hit a few Bankrupts and lose for no reason. Pat Sejak is very obviously sick of his job and Vanna White is the first one on the chopping block to get her job automated away, bless her heart.

Every morning we watch the Price is Right where Excited people being Excitedly chosen from the Excited crowd, Excitedly guess how much Exciting products cost, so they can Excitedly play Exciting games to win increasingly Exciting prizes and Exciting vacations, and it’s easy to fall down a nihilistic rabbit hole and think to yourself, “will I ever be that happy?”

But then other times I watch it and I’m just stoked that some guy won a couple grand playing Plinko.

Seriously, how do they get people to be that Excited? I don’t think I’ve ever been that Excited about anything. After a good while of thinking about it I’ve decided that they either: vet people really well, leaving behind ambivalent introverts like myself; crowd mentality is a hell of a drug and just amps everyone up no matter who you are; or they’re putting amphetamines in the water. I’ll let you decide.

My problem with the Price is Right is the same as Wheel, how random it is. Sometimes, even if you’re really good at playing the game you can get shafted, it’s no better than a slot machine most of the time. Some games have an element of skill, like knowing that Tide Pods cost more than Tic-tacs. But some of the games are just guessing numbers and those suck. Some skill also occurs when trying to get up on stage as going last is a huge advantage. If you’re smart you can just play the numbers relative to what everyone else bid and you should be able to win, barring the scenario where you have absolutely no idea what a trampoline costs.

Some of my favorite moments on Price are when the person is definitely not stoked about the prize. Like the contestant will be a quadriplegic and they’ll give him a treadmill or “you’ll fly round trip coach to beautiful... Mogadishu, where you’ll stay at the Mogadishu Holiday Inn. Breakfast. Is. Included.” and the winner is filmed only mildly Excited, smiling and clapping along.

Spay and neuter your pets ladies and gentlemen.

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