A great Wednesday night of game shows…

I’m writing this on a sleep-troubled red-eye from Philadelphia to Dublin, ahead of what I expect to be an amazing twelve-day vacation on the Emerald Isle. (And as I hit “publish,” I’ve just touched down.) But it’s still worth recounting the outstanding television I fortunately chose, in lieu of Democrat Death Match, Part I. (Part II allegedly played out earlier on this flight, but if I’m disconnected, it didn’t really happen, did it?)

Press Your Luck. I love what Elizabeth Banks is doing as host of this revival. Her quips in the question rounds call back to the late, great Peter Tomarken. And directing the players as they face the Big Board, she strikes the right balance between condescending to the old fans who know how the game is played, and leaving potential new ones in the dark. The production in general also gets a thumb up from me. While I wish they used more of the original version’s theme music, the mix of Whammies old and new is wonderful. More importantly, the extension to an hour is pitch perfect – the game winner alone against the Big Board and the Whammies, for EVEN BIGGER BUCKS!

Last night, we had a player reach the final round (the Big Bucks Bonanza) for the first time. There were situations where I agreed with Mellanie – especially playing the last spin in the main game, trusting herself to avoid the Whammy. There were places where I’d have gone differently – for example, after round 5 of the bonus game. But man, was it a thrill to watch. I would love it were the phrase “risk it for the biscuit” to enter the American lexicon more broadly – but even if it doesn’t, perhaps I can incorporate it into my own life.

Final note: “Statue of You” is the “Flokati Rug” of this new version.

Card Sharks. Again, ABC nailed it with the choice of host. I haven’t followed Joel McHale’s every move, but I know he can bring it – I distinctly recall him hilariously wrecking an Adam Carolla Show live read many years ago. The high-low questions are updated perfectly for the XXIth Century. And I don’t have as much of a problem with the subtle changes to the main game (one race to ten, vice best of three to five) and the Money Cards (a single row of seven, vice two rows of three and the single Big Bet).

And the Money Cards in the first game – wow. Haydee wanted to take a big stack off that stage to finance a home for her mom, and even after the IRS backs out its cut, she’ll be able to do just that. She changed earlier than I would have. She went all-in twice where I would not have; then again, she certainly didn’t see a player wipe out on three straight aces two weeks also, as the viewers did. But it was exactly what both we and ABC want – edge-of-your-seat drama, and she came through the gauntlet unscathed, and $200,000 richer for having done so. Unfortunately, the second game was anticlimactic; when the cable box clock read 9:54 and we hadn’t even started the Money Cards yet, I strongly suspected a bust out, and was proved right.

Jeopardy! An hour before the network Summer Fun & Games, a barnburner in the third semifinal of this season’s second Teen Tournament. I play along at home and keep my own scores, so I’m not always focused in on where the players are. When I looked up at the end of Double Jeopardy! and saw Avi and Jackson tied, with Teagan not too far behind, I wondered whether we might have to go to sudden-death sudden-victory to get our third finalist.

I parsed the clue early in the Think! music, all three players got it too, and both gentlemen bet the ranch – thus, we did indeed get the ninth tiebreaker in Jeopardy! history, and the first in a tournament since the final of the Teen Tournament five years ago. I feel for Jackson – it’s an exceptionally tough way to go out, even tougher than Sreekar not making the second week with an $18,000 non-winning quarterfinal score. But there really is no better way to settle matters, at least not one that fits within the constraints of television production. You can’t play another Final clue; reserving over a full minute of twenty for something that happens about 0.15% of the time is simply untenable.

There have been plenty of games in the show’s history that have been decided on a single late break – be it a Daily Double found and capitalized on, a clue buzzed in on (or not), a Final in or out of a player’s wheelhouse (ask James Holzhauer about that). What Al Pacino said about football in Any Given Sunday is equally true of Jeopardy! – it’s a game of inches. Avi bested Jackson for that last inch to reach the final, but that takes nothing away from Jackson’s performance. If ever the show were to hold another Teen Reunion Tournament, I would humbly place the name of Jackson Jones into nomination for selection.

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