The American dream goes something like this: the idea — if not the reality — that anyone, no matter how seemingly disadvantaged, can achieve their own version of success through hard work, dedication, and a willingness to take intelligent risks.
Few game shows embody the spirit of the American dream better than Jeopardy!
That’s because Jeopardy! isn’t the typical game show. There are no gimmicks. No manufactured drama. No “Whammies,” no “Bankrupt” wedges, no spinning wheels or dice rolls or card draws.
No equalizing factor that makes it possible for anyone, if they get lucky enough, to pull off a surprise win.
Someone like me? If I could change my personality to become incredibly outgoing and find an undiscovered love for wearing wacky clothes, I could conceivably win on The Price Is Right. A couple of good guesses, a little luck, and boom: I’m off to Cancún for six nights and seven days.
Someone like me could not conceivably win on Jeopardy! Or even make it on the show. I’m not smart enough: Jeopardy! is a meritocracy where broad intelligence, an understanding of game theory and tactics, and buzzer timing rule the day.
As the public face of the Jeopardy! brand, the recently passed Alex Trebek embodied the spirit of servant leadership as few people do.
He arrived at work by 6 a.m. to review the day’s material. (Jeopardy! tapes five shows in one day.)
He reviewed pronunciation. He reviewed questions and answers not so he could pretend to be smart — something he could, as a performer, easily have pulled off — but so he could actually be smart.
And so he could then step back to let the game, and the players, step forward.
He never made fun of a contestant. He was never snarky. He was never critical. He was nice, and courteous, and when appropriate empathetic.
He did what great leaders do. He wasn’t showy. He wasn’t flashy. He was consistently simple and stable and trustworthy.
He focused on creating an environment where the brand could shine. Where the product could shine.
Where the best and brightest people could achieve, and succeed, on the basis of their own talent and merit.
And for a few moments at least, become stars.