'Jeopardy' champ: Trivia's important
The Salt Lake Tribune
By Mike Cronin
Perhaps the legacy "Jeopardy" champion Ken Jennings will leave society when his 15 minutes of fame has elapsed is this: There is nothing trivial about trivia.
Here the record-holder for number of consecutive wins on "Jeopardy" (74) and all-time winnings for any game show (about $2.5 million) disagreed with Shakespeare. The great bard once wrote, "There is nothing serious about trivial things," Jennings told a crowd of more than 500 at Westminster College on Wednesday night.
Instead, Jennings argued, trivia is the stuff of human connections. Having a storehouse of random facts enables individuals to bridge cultural divides. In a society that has become so specialized, it is sometimes difficult for people to understand one another, he said.
"Facts can have more value than is immediately apparent," he said, citing the example that hydrogen can now be produced from corn, making possible the unlimited ability to power fuel cells into the future. "They can have legacies."
But, most of all, it is simply fun. "Knowing that an opossum has 13 nipples can bring us joy," he said to audience members, many of whom doubled over in laughter. "It doesn't matter when you use it."
Wednesday's appearance was the first stop on a planned nationwide tour of college campuses. Jennings said after the event that there is no tour length or schedule set yet. His popularity and demand would dictate those details.
Jennings' current popularity is in no doubt. People began lining up for Wednesday's show at 4:30 p.m., said spokeswoman Helen Langan. And the main venue, the Gore Concert Hall at the Emma Eccles Jones Conservatory, filled up so swiftly that college officials had to arrange two overflow sites where people watched through remote television feeds.
The game-show personality spoke for about 45 minutes, answered questions from the crowd and then went head-to-head in a trivia challenge against David Goldsmith, a Westminster professor of geology, and Pepper Hayes, a Westminster senior with a 3.97 GPA. Fifteen questions comprised three categories: history, literature and geography.
As he did for so many months, Jennings gave his challengers an intellectual beat-down, defeating them handily with 11 points. Goldsmith scored five and Hayes tallied two. Yet the competition was more of an afterthought. Jennings' tales of moveable platforms behind the "Jeopardy" podiums to ensure no contestant was too tall or too short and the surreal feeling of eating cereal in his shorts while watching Diane Sawyer say his name on TV cracked up the crowd - and only underlined that trivia truly is uplifting.
That elation was apparent on Hayes' face when she finally scored her first point, answering "The Iliad" as the work penned during the last year of the Trojan War. "Once I saw Ken wrote that, too, I knew I got it right," she said.
Goldsmith, who earned his doctorate at Harvard and studied under Stephen Jay Gould, is a former college "Jeopardy" champion. He said Wednesday night's questions were "a dozen times harder," specifically identifying questions about early English royalty.
"The only consolation was, Ken didn't get those either."