Like nearly everybody you see on “Jeopardy!”, I'm obsessed. “Jeopardy!” is my oldest and strongest pop culture fixation, and at this point it stimulates a part of my brain that no Trivial Pursuit card — even the ones from 1982 featuring obscure Kim Carnes factoids — can reach. “Jeopardy!” is about speed, reflexes, trivia, and showing off. It is not civil. It is “Bad Girls Club” for nerds, and you better believe I wanted to bludgeon Ken Jennings with my knowledge of deserts and Best Pictures during his legendary win streak in 2004.
So when I got the call to be a contestant on “Jeopardy!” in January of this year, I didn't panic. I snickered and purred like Cruella and awaited the bloodshed, and I didn't mind if the blood was my own. Part of being a true “Jeopardy!” fan is knowing that you can lose and lose hard. It's always incredibly rich when a home-viewer snarks about a contestant who finishes Double Jeopardy! with a negative dollar amount. Honey, that third-place finisher passed two fifty-question tests, beat thousands of other applicants, and dared to test his trivia mettle on national TV during your nana's dinner hour. You can't act superior to this with your lazy lowercase tweet. This is not “Liz & Dick” or “The Room” or whatever else makes average people feel brilliant.
During my tape day I was confident and pretty composed, which was kind of a shock. Contestants receive ample opportunity to practice buzzer skills and learn the crucial moment to ring in. You'll notice there aren't many “Jeopardy!” contestants who seem overcome with fear on air, and that's because the pre-game rituals are such a help. I've appeared as a comic on shows like “Chelsea Lately” and felt terrified because I had no sense of how I'd fit into the show's dynamic. At worst on “Jeopardy!”, I felt excited and anxious. It felt good.
But that wasn't enough to win the game for me. After a great contest, I lost in Final Jeopardy! when I couldn't come up the correct answer to a clue about executions in the Tower of London. Who knew the Tower of London was still in “operation” during the 1940s? I sure didn't. It felt horrible to lose, but the thrill of “Jeopardy!” is in realizing you can't know everything. It was a fabulous piece of trivia that escaped me, and now I know it. That also feels good. That's why we like this show.
And yet, I have a regret — one unrelated to gameplay. If you watch the show, I'm slamming around on the buzzer with a wrist flicked up to heaven. I'm coltish in my feminine movements. I gush about meeting Jane Fonda, my favorite movie star of all time, during my contestant interview. I snapped my fingers at the camera during my introduction; I snapped again with full “In Living Color” gusto after I responded correctly on a Daily Double. Before the closing credits, I posed like Linda Evangelista with a ladylike arm in the air. It all felt fantastic and organic, a reflection of my obsession with the show. But I hate, hate, hate that I didn't just say “I'm gay” on air.
Wait, what's that? You already guessed I'm gay based on my voice, my mannerisms, my interests, my clothes, and my Cool Whip-shaped hair? I bet you did! But you are an internet-savvy person who is reading HitFix.com; you are not the average TV viewer who catches “Jeopardy!” at 3:30 p.m. in Tuscaloosa or a suburb of St. Paul or my hometown of Lemont, IL. In the history of “Jeopardy!”, I can think of only one contestant who explicitly mentioned his gayness on air, and that was season 28 premiere contestant Glenn Edwards. He discussed singing with the New York City Gay Men's Chorus during his chat with Alex. I will never forget Glenn Edwards. “Jeopardy!” is a show where in a given week you hear a handful of contestant anecdotes about how some guy met his wife, or how some woman met her husband. You hear clues about straight romance in literature and celebrity straight couples. For whatever reason, you never hear gay contestants open up about their lives and you don't hear much about the lives of gay celebrities and luminaries either. While I don't believe “Jeopardy!” is at all antigay (Did you see that clue about gay marriage a few weeks back? Slightly shady!), it makes straightness seem far more acknowledgeable than gayness. Heteronormativity is an intoxicating comfort for some, especially in remote, internet-challenged areas; in that context, folks like Glenn Edwards are basically my Carrie Nation — disturbers of the peace who are righteous in their self-ownership. Wish I could've joined him in that distinction. As much as I represented my gayness, I didn't say the word. As a kid growing up in the suburbs who venerated everything about “Jeopardy!”, I would've loved seeing an expressive gay contestant own his homosexuality as well as the buzzer.
I'll never get that chance again, but I take some comfort in having exhibited my sexual orientation through a few glaring clues. It just annoys me to settle for illustration when the correct response to heteronormativity is blatant acknowledgment of my own reality.
Fortunately, I can rectify my mistake through direct reactions to my most hideous critics. Thanks for letting me be myself, “Jeopardy!”. I only wish I could've told everyone how proud I was to do that. (Thanks to Bette Midler for the inspiration to handle haters right.)