Quadruple Jeopardy

It seemed like any random episode of Jeopardy at first.

I mean, I was only half paying attention. Once you start googling for details about an answer, it's hard to remember to look back up from the phone. But I was surprised when it turned into a double-feature episode. I don't think I've ever seen two Jeopardy episodes back to back before, not during prime time at least. But what made me really pay attention was when I realized that all three players were still there: Vicky, Pierre, and Ji-Yoo. And wearing the same outfits.

Was it a new format? I may not have been paying close attention, but I definitely remember Ji-Yoo making a risky wager to secure the lead on the last question. Something about the invention of the cathode ray. She nailed it, the players shook hands, and the host congratulated her. Not Alex, one of the new ones, Luc. I think it was the first time I've seen him. But I'm certain I watched Ji-Yoo beat the other two, and yet here they all are.

Luc offered no explanation. Then the board filled, and the players' score displays lit up with their totals from the night before. The players seemed as surprised as I was. I didn't even notice at first that the categories were all the same. In fact, I'm pretty sure the questions were the same, but in different spots. The players seemed to have a hard time, lots of wrong answers. Pierre was visibly frustrated. Then Vicky buzzed in on a clue about the capital of Portugal. "What is Tasmania?" she said, with what sounded like forced confidence.

"Correct." I may not be the best at geography, but I'm pretty sure Tasmania is in Australia somewhere.

How could Jeopardy make such a glaring mistake?

A light went on in Vicky's head, and she started a hot streak. But the clues and her answers weren't lining up. Names where places should have been, numbers that didn't match their context. I was confused, but she was clearing the board at a crazy pace, even sometimes cutting off the clue in a hurry to answer. I think Ji-Yoo figured it out next, but Pierre caught on too. The last few questions of the first round were buzzer bashing races, and I finally realized what was happening. They were reusing the answers from the previous night, disregarding the clue displayed tonight. It wasn't a trivia game tonight, it was a memory contest.

Around the start of the second round, pizza arrived. While I fumbled through my coat to find my wallet to get a tip for the driver, she made small talk. Asked how my night was.

"Do you watch Jeopardy?" I asked.

"With Alex Trebek? No. When I was a kid, my grandma loved to watch. But I don't really like game shows."

I nodded. "Trebek passed on, so now they're trying new hosts, and maybe a new format. It's really strange tonight."

She nodded back as she put the tip in her pocket. "I hate when my favorite shows change hosts. It's always weird. I hope the pizza is more reliable!"

By the time I was back, the second round was almost mopped up. Vicky's early control in round 1 helped her get close to Ji-Yoo's score, but Pierre seemed to have the quickest buzzer finger, so he was starting to mount a comeback too. He must have hit the Daily Double. In a normal game, the scores would have been close enough to make Final Jeopardy the decider. But not this one, because everyone already knew the answer. So of course they all wagered their full score, and succeeded in doubling it. Once again, Ji-Yoo was the winner, though she looked a lot less thrilled this time. All the players looked antsy.

I thought about putting the rest of the pizza in the fridge, but I was too anxious to see what the next show was. 8PM, so the nightly news should be coming in before the talk shows start. Nope. More Jeopardy. Same contestants. They look agitated. I'm not really sure how Jeopardy is filmed, but I get the feeling these players aren't getting to take a break. Pierre is hanging his head low. Ji-Yoo is staring daggers at Luc. Vicky was doing some sort of mental exercise, her hand idly tracing the shapes of her thoughts. Maybe retracing the answer pattern from the last two games.

This time the first round was split between Ji-Yoo and Vicky. Pierre barely seemed to try, and eventually just put his buzzer down and closed his eyes. Luc didn't mention it, and the other players were too focused to notice. But I think Ji-Yoo figured it out in between rounds. As the second round started, I saw her tap Pierre on the shoulder and point at the board. He perked up, and over the next few questions he and I both figured out what she was pointing at. The category labels were changing.

They were showing the next correct answer for that column. Literally just giving away the answers.

Ji-Yoo got the Daily Double, and took a bold risk. She could have had easy points, but she wagered only $911. She answered "What is Sharing is Caring?" Incorrect, but it definitely caught the attention of the other two players. They dared to glance her way, but she insisted on looking straight forward. Straight at Luc, with that determined stare again.

It seemed to work. Pierre picked the next clue, but followed Ji-Yoo's lead in holding his buzzer out with his thumb off it. Vicky buzzed in and answered correctly. Then she picked a clue, and let Ji-Yoo answer. They continued this pattern of taking turns answering questions for the rest of the round. If Luc noticed, he didn't seem to care.

Final Jeopardy came around again. This time, Ji-Yoo broke the mold with another $911 wager, and the written words "Play Along". The other players looked a little deflated. Clearly, Ji-Yoo had something figured out, but how much longer could they just play along? The scores were tallied, and Ji-Yoo's stunt let Vicky take the lead. At least, according to the score displays. Luc had a different idea.

"That makes Ji-Yoo tonight's winner." The camera cut to a close up of her face, surprised. When it cut back to the wide shot to show her (also confused) competitors shaking her hand, she was in the wrong spot. She and Vicky had somehow swapped places. Ji-Yoo was now on the left side podium, with Vicky's score in front of her. The players were just as surprised as I was, but none dared to try to move. Fearful expressions crept across their faces as the camera pulled out and the credits rolled.

Sure enough, a fourth episode began. The players kept their rearranged positions and scores. This time, each category label was repeated on every screen in its column, replacing the dollar prizes. The prizes values turned out to be the right answer. Once the players figured it out, they did the same turn taking as before. It was kind of tedious, with Luc reading the same category names over and over and the players counting by 200. But once again Ji-Yoo shook things up when she got a Daily Double early in the second round. This time, she wagered $730, and her answer was "What is I'd like to buy a vowel?"

The whole studio seemed to pause for a second, as both Luc and the other players parsed her response. "OK," Luc said, "Go ahead."

"U, please."

Another tense pause, then a wrong answer sound, like a loud scronch. Jeopardy doesn't use harsh noises like that. That was a Wheel of Fortune wrong answer sound. The players clearly noticed, their eyes darting around nervously to see what would happen. "I'm sorry, the question we were looking for was 'What is $800?'. For that, you'll lose your wager of $730, and Pierre has control of the board."

Pierre cleared his throat nervously, and selected another clue. Ji-Yoo put her face in her palms, clearly disappointed. Pierre saw this, panicked, and I think he just forgot which square on the board he was in. He guessed the wrong number. That made it Vicky's turn. She reached out in front of her, like she was trying to grab something knocked off her podium, wrenched her arm to the side, then straightened up and started clapping excitedly. She was spinning an imaginary wheel.

Ji-Yoo started clapping too, which convinced Pierre to join in. I heard a familiar clicking sound slow down as the imaginary wheel settled on an outcome. Vicky paused for a second in case Luc had something to contribute, but he just stared at her expectantly. "T!" she announced.

"Vanna, how about T?" Luc asked. The camera cut to the board, where two of the clue squares switched to showing just the letter T. "Yes, looks like there are a couple of them. Spin again." When the camera cut back to Vicky, her podium was gone. All the podiums were gone. The players were still on the Jeopardy set, but now standing in front of the wheel, from Wheel of Fortune.

Vicky took a few more spins, adding a couple more letters to the board before a wrong guess made it Ji-Yoo's turn. Ji-Yoo made pretty quick work of the puzzle, announcing her solution after a couple spins.

"I'd like to solve: Anomaly Detected".

"That's correct!" Luc said. I noticed that his demeanor was softening. His terse seriousness from before was relaxing into a more friendly smile. Lots of things were changing, once I looked closer. Luc's podium was gone, he was holding a microphone instead. The lighting was brighter. As the next round started, the clue wall changed to green and white squares. It was turning into the Wheel of Fortune set, piece by piece. The players were getting more excited too.

Other than the lingering Jeopardy stage elements, this round felt like normal Wheel. Vicky hit the bankrupt space, costing her the lead. Ji-Yoo scored nicely with three Rs, but Pierre solved the puzzle. "Clocking Error". Luc announced that, based on scores, Ji-Yoo would advance to the final round. Vicky and Pierre tried to hide their nervousness with polite applause, but they had to be thinking the same thing I was. What happens when a player is eliminated?

I didn't find out, because the camera cut to a close up with Ji-Yoo and Luc for the final. At this point, the only remnant of the Jeopardy set was Luc himself. Even Vanna White had appeared, somehow. The last puzzle was a big one. Five words, two of them were long. The common letters were revealed, and Ji-Yoo picked three consonants and a vowel. It was a decent start, but I had no idea. She was a natural though, and cracked it in a few seconds. "We Apologize for any Inconvenience". I couldn't help but laugh a little.

Luc opened the envelope and revealed her final prize. It was a vacation to somewhere I didn't recognize, but Ji-Yoo cheered and smiled all the same. The camera pulled out to a wide shot, and I could see Vicky and Pierre still standing near the wheel. Ji-Yoo waved at them as the credits rolled.

As the commercials played, I was on the edge of my seat. But instead of another round of Wheel or more strange Jeopardy, Late Night with Jimmy Kimmel came on. Based on the lack of an opening monologue, I think the show was already underway. That lined up with the clock. I watched intently, but it was just a normal show. Guests plugging new projects, some silly banter, a musical performance. Not a single hint of weirdness. I wound up watching the channel late into the night, just in case, and at some point I fell asleep on the couch.

The next morning, after tossing some stale pizza, I started looking around online to see what people were saying about Jeopardy.

There was nothing to find. The fan forums and subreddit didn't have any mention of the strange episodes. I tried making a post asking about it, but it was removed for "trolling". I checked with a few friends, but most of them don't even have cable anymore, and the few that did weren't using it to watch game shows. It's been a few months now, and as far as I can tell, no one saw the broadcast that I did. The more I tried to explain it, the less real it all felt. I even started to entertain the idea that I'd just fallen asleep and dreamed the whole thing.

Until I ordered pizza last night. It was the same driver as before. "Hey! How's Jeopardy tonight? Still weird?" she asked. A cold chill raced down my spine. She'd been there, during the second game of Jeopardy, I'd talked to her. She remembers it. It couldn't have been a dream! She raised an eyebrow at my bewildered expression, and I couldn't imagine explaining everything.

I didn't want to tell her the truth, that I was too scared to watch it. That I'd been turning my TV off every night at 6:30. That I'd been reading a lot of books. "No, I think it's gone back to normal."

She smiled. "Oh good. It's nice to get back to normal."

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