There's a cheeky Jeopardy winner on a nine-day streak and his name is Austin Rogers. He begins each show pantomiming through his portion of contestant introductions, instead of staring blankly ahead for a traditional video mugshot. For Friday's intro, he solved an air Rubik's cube, just to give you an idea.
He does voices, makes faces and hand gestures throughout the show. He piles on sarcasm, and genuinely gets under host Alex Trebek's skin. He's also betting high and winning big. It's a weird mix for longtime fans, and they remain divided about him.
Imagine Richard Hendricks-level hardware wrapped in an Erlich Bachman shell and you have a glimpse of Austin. He can blow his entire lead in Double Jeopardy and shrug it off. He can clearly state "I didn't know that one" out loud. Whatevs. He'll just work the board and find another way to win. There's no shame in that. But OG Jeopardy viewers want there to be. They want him to be nervous and serious and sweating it out.
Friday night there was a question no one buzzed in on, and Trebek said to the three contestants, "You're gonna hate yourselves for this one -- What is room temperature?" Austin cuts him off mid-dramatic pause, and goes to the next clue. At least three times in that episode, Trebek wondered aloud how long Rogers would be around. Maybe that's scripted, but Alex seems to really want Austin gone.
Austin doesn't fit the mold. But the mold is over 50 years old.
Jeopardy has to deal with the fact it was created back when it was easier to brain-shame. The show now has an audience whose self-loathing comes from a very different place. We don't hate ourselves over a single incorrect response. We learn from it and move on. Jeopardy remains a dunce cap in a Scenes from a Hat world. If the show can't embrace its Austins, it will find itself on the rooftop at Hooli, wealthy and irrelevant, waiting until its contracts expire.
"Can I speak to Susan?" the caller asked. I was in training but already knew we got these calls all the time. People who thought they were calling a small office instead of an industrial switchboard.
"What department, please?" I asked.
My trainer was listening in and yanked the mic from my headset, pulling us cheek-to-cheek. "I'll connect you, sir," she said, as she smushed the mic back on my face, and connected the call. "That was Mr. X!" she said. (The owner of the global enterprise.) I was supposed to know his voice, and that when he called asking for Susan, I was to connect him to his secretary. Good thing I would be working nights.
[Names changed to keep folks from judging the 1%.]
Today is Emma M. Nutt Day, honoring the first adult, and first woman, to be a telephone operator, making $10/month. Before her, they used rude boys -- story is in the link.
I got to work three switchboard jobs in my youth, each with its own adventures and characters. So I want to remember this telepioneer. From here on out, I will be referring to Peanut M&M's by her name. Let's face it -- this day sounds delicious. My gesture may not be as dignified as the civility she brought to her work, but it will help me remember her and all the nutty, grossly underpaid females who followed, including me and my friends. I will tell some of our stories at some point but for now, please hold.
My first time in Houston was on a trip with fellow Six Flags over Georgia workers, to visit sister parks in Texas. One night, we got to go see the Braves lose in the Astrodome. (It was the early 80's; they always lost.) We had fun and our hosts were great.
Twenty years later I was working between coasts, and would find myself in Houston from time to time. It never went well.
"Don't curse this place," I heard, and stopped dead in the concourse to look around. I knew I hadn't said "I hate Houston" out loud, but somehow I'd just heard a response. It was an audible voice. But no one was near me, and now there was silence. Clearly (to me in my world), God was telling me to change my attitude toward a city in Texas. Okay.
From that day, I began to see Houston news everywhere. And I began to pray for its people. And I went to a conference there, and did some mission work there, and even learned I'm kind of from there. Huh? Yeah, I had no idea my dad spent some early years there growing up. So Houston, you got my attention.
And then -- Katrina. It was a couple years after my airport encounter that Houston became the new home of countless evacuees of Hurricane Katrina. One of the main shelters was the abandoned Astrodome. News of conditions there hit me hard.
Here was this great facility, with room to spare, but no one knew what to do with it, how to organize it. Government agencies were understaffed, and collaboration with other groups was chaotic. The place was dangerous. Water scarce. Toilets overflowing. Workers stealing from victims. People fighting, raping, and killing. A horror show. And conditions weren't much better in other locations.
This time, even before Harvey struck, lines of buses were helping Texans evacuate. The buses came before, not after.
And as the storm lingers today, pouring a year's rain within a week, civilians are mobilizing themselves. They're not waiting to help. A loose band of boaters dubbed the Cajun Navy was first launched post-Katrina, trying to find stranded survivors. It was brutal work, but these Samaritans found they'd rather be wrung out by weather than pelted by news images of people dying on rooftops.
So the flotilla is back, helping with Harvey early. They've learned time equals lives, and that anyone with a boat is on the front lines. Small towns still await help tonight, hoping this casual coast guard has enough sailors, speed, and stamina to get them in time. We are in a life-and-death window right now.
That Houston interstate where I nearly wrecked is a lake today. And so is the airport where the city first got my attention. The convention center next to the old dome is open for evacuees, but the stadium itself has not yet recovered from Katrina. It is being rebranded and developed.
Harvey survivors are being taken to local aid stations, and to facilities farther away. People are opening their businesses and homes to them. So far, this response seems better, calmer.
But it's still raining.