What is community, Alex?

This past Saturday concluded Grand Slam, the Game Show Network‘s summer tournament pitting 16 game show contestants over the years and across multiple shows (Jeopardy, Millionaire, Weakest Link, etc.) against each other in a new format to all of the players – short speed rounds covering trivia, math & logic, and words & letters. Ken Jennings – the 74-time winner on Jeopardy, AKA The Stormin’ Mormon or The Shootah from Utah, author and blogger, and now a resident of the Seattle area – won the tournament over heretofore-unknown Ogi Ogas, a Millionaire $500,000 winner.

The gameshow itself was catnip to game show geeks, perfect for bizarreniks like me who remember Thom McKee playing on Tic Tac Dough for nine weeks (and was happy to see him again).

What was most interesting to me, though, was that a huge percentage of the competitors became message board participants across the web: in particular, the Ken Jennings message board has a thread where at least half of the competitors participate, including all four semifinalists, in an almost-entirely-nonsense-free zone – a mix of competitors and fans talking about what was showing up that week and the next. There’s invented language for referring to games not yet played and a huge amount of personality visible for basically every competitor. One competitor who lost badly came online, embarrassed and apologizing (unnecessarily) for her performance. Ogi and others show up on the official Grand Slam message threads as well.

Reading this thread feels strange: I’m used to game show players being remote – not that they aren’t on the same planet, just that they aren’t in the same social sphere. I know they appear in online game show forums occasionally, but it’s rare and it’s never conversational – some of it feels like you’re listening to backstage conversations weeks later. There’s a wall that’s broken down here that I’m just not used to seeing. I also associate game shows with secrecy: everybody knows that contestants are bound by contract to keep the details under wraps until their games are televised, and when my aunt was on Jeopardy in the 1980’s, she kept the results secret from her family.

Game shows are well-documented online – the J! Archive documents every modern Jeopardy! game (clues, players, scores, etc.), for example. (Sadly, it doesn’t cover all games from the 1980’s, so it’s missing my aunt’s match.) I guess it’s no surprise that as online communities have grown up around game shows, the contestants are just as likely to participate as the fans – after all, they’re fans too, and are only on the show once (or 74 times). Nevertheless, I didn’t expect this kind of engagement, and it’s worth a look.

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