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August 2, 2014

Prisoner of Trebekistan: The TV Squad review

by Keith McDuffee, posted Dec 23rd 2006 10:17AM
prisoner of trebekistanTo me, Jeopardy! is the quintessential game show. At the end of a game, I walk away with a sense of awe that those three people could truly have the brains to retain such an amazing amount of information, then be put in front of millions of people to blurt pieces of it out on demand and faster than two other people -- in the form of a question, to boot. I'd often wonder how one could possibly prepare to be faced with that kind of pressure and what kind of unfathomable studying one would have to do to qualify for that show, never mind actually win. Several times.

Jane Espenson, who as some of you know has been extremely courteous enough to give her insights into her recent writings for Battlestar Galactica, sent me a copy of a book that opened my mind to the world of one very successful contestant on the greatest game show in the world, Bob Harris. That book is Prisoner of Trebekistan.

I don't want to be too long winded about my thoughts on the book, though I do want to give you a decent idea of what to expect. In essence this is about a man who, with no fancy-schmancy Ivy League college education nor a history of being one to dazzle friends with useless knowledge at parties, was able to become a five-time Jeopardy! winner and be featured several times in Champions tournaments of the show. How he did it, what he went through doing it and, ultimately, where it got him.

The most interesting portions of the book, to me, were Bob's methods for memorizing the incredible amounts of worldly knowledge one has to have to be successful on the show. Harris didn't really "know" everything he spouted out for answers (er, actually, questions) but instead he was able to reach into the back of his mind for the answer through tricks of association. The thing is, Bob's associations aren't what you'd call "typical" by any means, though they make a hell of a lot of sense.

Something else Harris did to prepare for shows can very much apply to any test taking exercise, and obviously it works brilliantly. Simply put yourself in the same atmosphere as the test environment, as closely as possible. Same clothes, same time, same food, same looking room. Same "Weapon."

The book also goes into the process of being accepted into the game, what the green room is like before each show, and how even these players now who the big-time contenders are among them. Players like Ken Jennings aren't just legends to the viewers, they're heralded from within as well.

Ultimately, this book isn't meant to be all about how to study for, play and win at Jeopardy!. This is a book about one man's life and how getting into and being rather successful at the game affected (and didn't affect) his life. Oh, and of course, it's about how he came to meet his now girlfriend, Jane (yes, that Jane).

The book is also about a place in one's mind called "Trebekistan." In short, the more you learn the more you find how things that seemed separate before really aren't so much, and everything is connected wherever you go. For those who are Buffy fans, this might sound very season seven-ish.

OK, now this is where Jane will hate me. While I loved everything having to do with the game, how Harris practiced and planned for each game and how they were played, I wasn't so much into some of the personal aspects of his life. While I appreciated what he went through, I guess his life situation is something that I feel others can associate with, though some will not. I'm of that latter portion. I felt for Bob's sister's situation, his times with Jane, and I thought it was cool he's friends with Danny Strong, but when he jumped over into more of his personal situation I found myself wondering when he'd start back on the Jeopardy! set and get back to kicking some ass.

This is definitely a keeper for anyone who's even remotely a fan of Jeopardy!. The segues into Harris' personal situations are brief and not distracting, so I wouldn't call that a non-selling point by any means.

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PastaQueen

Didn't they get back together though? I just read that book a couple weeks ago and they were back together at the end. Did they break up a second time after publication?

December 23 2006 at 4:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Buffy Slayer

Comment: Bob and Jane broke up years ago although they are friends.

December 23 2006 at 3:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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