If it seems like there’s been a steady stream of Minnesotans competing on “Jeopardy” lately, it’s not your imagination. And if it seems as if our neighbors have been winning big when they get on the show, that’s accurate, too.
We’ve had three Minnesotans turn up on the game show in just the past few weeks, with one of them — Rob Worman from Edina — racking up six victories in a row and $133,901 in winnings in mid-February.
Sarah Norris from Minneapolis made a splash on an installment aired March 1 when she ended up in a tie at $6,799, giving host Alex Trebek a chance to breathlessly explain that for the very first time, the show was putting into use tiebreaker rules that were written four years ago. (Alas, they went against Norris.)
In January, a show aired in which Claudia Hochstein of St. Paul finished with $3,797. And in October, Macalester College grad Austin Rogers made it through 12 episodes in which he accumulated $411,000. Only four people have won more games and money since the show debuted in 1964.
And there have been other Minnesotans. A year ago, Macalester student Jen Katz took part in the show’s college championship, and in 2016 then-Sen. Al Franken competed in — and handily won — the celebrity edition.
Which raises an issue, which we will express in the form of a question: Why are Minnesotans kicking butt on “Jeopardy”?
There are a variety of explanations, from the game’s format to changes in marketing to old-fashioned coincidence. But for our money, there’s one — and only one — explanation for this trend:
We’re smarter than everyone else.
“But we’re not supposed to say that,” admitted Darrin Miernicki, owner of the Darrin James Salon in St. Louis Park and someone who holds the intelligence of Minnesotans in high regard. “Because we’re not supposed to brag. It’s all part of Minnesota Nice. But we’re smarter than other people.”
It helps that “Jeopardy” plays to Minnesotans’ strengths. Even as the tension builds through Double Jeopardy to Final Jeopardy, contestants must retain their composure in order to keep their minds clear. Stoicism is invaluable.
Compare that with, say, “The Price Is Right,” where contestants are expected to run down the aisle, waving their arms in pinwheel fanaticism as if they’re being chased by one of the shoddy special effects in “Sharknado.” Let’s face it: As a people, we don’t do emotional delirium well.
And then there’s “Family Feud,” where the players jump up and down, applaud enthusiastically and yell “Good answer!” even when it’s one of the worst answers imaginable. Minnesotans don’t tolerate fools gladly — and we certainly don’t cheer for them.
There’s brainpower involved in solving the puzzles on “Wheel of Fortune.” But the element of chance involved in spinning the giant roulette wheel runs against our Upper Midwest sensibilities. We like to be in control of our own fate rather than relying on extraneous factors. That’s why figure skating, which is ruled by the capriciousness of judges, has never caught on here like hockey has. That, and the fact that there’s no checking in figure skating.
There is evidence that bolsters our claim to superior intelligence.
Our schools are consistently ranked as being among the nation’s best. Book sales typically result in Minnesota being listed as one of the best-read states. (OK, that might have something to do with the fact that we don’t go outside much for four months of the year, but let’s put aside skepticism for a moment.) And we regularly are at the top of reports on philanthropic activity.
“Smart people give more to others,” Miernicki argued. “And I always use voting as an indication of how smart we are: We’re always setting records for voter turnout.”
A Minnesota native, his appraisal of our intelligence is based on having lived in other parts of the country.
“Anyone who has lived elsewhere and has come back to state knows what I’m talking about,” he said.
Granted, part of the reason more Minnesotans are showing up on “Jeopardy” is a function of marketing. Check out the reruns of old game shows that play on cable channels like the Game Show Network or Buzzr, and you’ll quickly notice that 99 percent of the contestants were from California, the vast bulk of them from Los Angeles and its suburbs.
Then the game shows realized that their viewers were spread across the entire country, and that people tend to get excited when one of their own turns up on the shows. Producers started sending out scouts and holding tryouts to recruit players from other locations. Laid-back Californians suddenly had to start competing with the brainiacs from Minnesota.
The “Jeopardy” search is even more sophisticated these days, explained Alison Shapiro Cooke, the show’s spokeswoman. Wannabe contestants take an online test, timed so you can’t google the answers. “You don’t even have time to type in the search parameters,” she said.
If you pass that, the next step is a regional audition at which you take another test and play a dry-run session of the game. Those who pass muster are put into a pool from which the contestants who go on the air are selected.
One caveat: You must pay your own way to Los Angeles to compete on the show. Of course, once you get there, being from Minnesota, you’re in line to win lots of money.