It’s kind of amaz­ing that Jeop­ardy! still makes news. Maybe some­one is in the mid­dle of a 70-game win­ning streak, or a robot is play­ing, or some­one is mak­ing an insane amount of mon­ey on the show. Some­how, you can still become a minor celebri­ty on Jeop­ardy! On Jeop­ardy! The Great­est of All Time, three con­tes­tants are com­pet­ing in a sev­en-night gaunt­let. Three nights in, and it’s one of my favorite TV shows right now.

Jeop­ardy! is fun to watch because it’s a game show you feel like you can play and win. And maybe you could! As a com­bi­na­tion of triv­ia, gam­bling, and reflex­es, it’s the per­fect com­bi­na­tion of things no one can tru­ly be the best at — just the best in a giv­en room. It’s also easy to over­es­ti­mate your per­for­mance: triv­ia always feels easy because when you know an answer, you know. This also makes it easy to over­es­ti­mate your own per­for­mance.

A game of Jeop­ardy! has 30 clues on a board, with two boards per game plus Final Jeop­ardy. The game moves fast to fit all that triv­ia in twen­ty-odd min­utes. I imag­ine that most peo­ple are like myself and think that they rock at Jeop­ardy! before they do the math and real­ize that they would also have to clean up the archi­tec­ture cat­e­go­ry as eas­i­ly as they did the movie one, and com­mit to being a more hum­ble fan. Or maybe you can do those things. Apply­ing to be a con­tes­tant is pret­ty easy, even if mak­ing it on the show is not.

Triv­ia always feels easy because when you know an answer, you know

Jeop­ardy!, in its most dra­mat­ic moments, fea­tures human beings that behave just like ani­me char­ac­ters — emphat­i­cal­ly mash­ing buzzers, exag­ger­at­ing their most pen­sive facial expres­sions, and gen­er­al­ly doing every­thing they can to keep their emo­tions in check, lest Alex Tre­bek notice how bad­ly they want his approval. It’s the Olympics of restraint, which makes the occa­sion­al glimpses of con­tes­tants’ per­son­al­i­ties or Alex’s with­er­ing wit incred­i­bly fun to watch.

This is also the rea­son why The Great­est of All Time is Jeop­ardy! at its finest. It’s not because of the high skill lev­el at which the con­tes­tants are play­ing, although that’s def­i­nite­ly there for those who appre­ci­ate it. It’s because this is the rare cir­cum­stance where the same three con­tes­tants — each with their own lengthy his­to­ry on the show — keep com­ing back to com­pete against one anoth­er. There’s a sim­ple-but-great nar­ra­tive at play if you want one.

Ken Jen­nings, who holds the record for the longest win­ning streak after his leg­endary 74-game run, is the easy favorite. He’s a charm­ing­ly goofy man with a very corny Twit­ter account and a sweet demeanor, mak­ing him the pla­ton­ic Jeop­ardy! hero. Direct­ly opposed to him is James Holzhauer, a pro­fes­sion­al gam­bler whose aggres­sive style and occa­sion­al harm­less needling of his oppo­nents makes him a won­der­ful low-stakes heel. And then there’s the under­dog, Brad Rut­ter, who has lost every game so far despite hold­ing the record for win­ning the most mon­ey in game show his­to­ry on Jeop­ardy! He’s the clos­est this show gets to a trag­ic fig­ure: the man with the longest his­to­ry on this show com­ing back and falling short because he can’t quite land the Dai­ly Dou­bles he needs to com­pete with gam­blers like Holzhauer.

if you get the chance and fail, it won’t cost you any­thing oth­er than your time

The Great­est of All Time could wrap up tonight. Its first three games, which aired last Tues­day through Thurs­day, end­ed with Holzhauer win­ning one game and Jen­nings win­ning two. What hap­pens next depends on tonight’s game: if Jen­nings wins, it’s over, but if Rut­ter or Holzhauer do, the series con­tin­ues until a con­tes­tant has won three.

There is vir­tu­al­ly no oth­er con­text in which watch­ing three mil­lion­aires com­pete for an addi­tion­al $1 mil­lion prize is this charm­ing. Per­haps this is because Jeop­ardy! still feels so egal­i­tar­i­an, even as most of its cel­e­brat­ed play­ers are large­ly white and male. Either through com­plete­ly nor­mal and harm­less delu­sion or actu­al bona fides, it’s easy to believe you have a shot at doing just as well. And more impor­tant­ly, if you get the chance and fail, it won’t cost you any­thing oth­er than your time.

Jeop­ardy! is one of the few long-run­ning game shows that is not designed to have con­tes­tants behave like rats in a greed-fueled maze, where they are expect­ed to shout at a wheel or per­form ridicu­lous stunts. It’s the rare game show that’s built in a way that lets you hold onto your dig­ni­ty. Maybe that’s why we keep watch­ing.

Sony Pic­tures

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