The Biggest Competition of the Year

Ahhh ’tis the Ides of February. The shortest month on the calender is traditionally one of the longest for sports fans. After the Super Bowl confetti is swept up we are faced with 4 weeks of ‘We don’t really care until April” NBA Games, “We don’t care until at least the conference tournament” college games, and “Nobody cares until April” baseball reports from Tim Kurkjian and Pablo Gomez. Honestly is there anything more boring in the world of sports than stock footage of pitchers and catchers throwing? In October they don’t show footage of Kevin Durant shooting free throws in an empty gym.

Yes Vince McMahon gives us the Royal Rumble to distract us for a night, but that can’t sustain the casual sports fan for a month. I dare anyone to tell me this 1989 Royal Rumble Intro video isn’t the best line of of wrestlers ever. It’s like Murderer’s Row.

Luckily one pop culture entity rose to the challenge to quench the American public’s thirst for competition. The Jeopardy-IBM Challenge!

I have been a Jeopardy fan since I was in elementary school and one of my dreams in life is to be a Jeopardy Champion (Actually I would settle for Jeopardy contestant.) I idolized Ken Jennings for his 70 plus day run as champion, which is on the level of Ripken and Lou Gehrig’s streaks. By day 35 he had more swagger than Lebron except he could actually call himself a champion.

In my opinion Jeopardy is the apex of intellectual competition. A great contestant on the show must be both book and street smart and also have the reflexes of an NHL goaltender. You also have to know enough insignificant trivia than everyone in a bar trivia night in a college town.

The Jeopardy-IBM Challenge pitted the 2 greatest champions the show has seen against 7 years of algorithms and hard work from some of the greatest computer minds of our time. THAT’S RIGHT IT’S A NERD Vs. DORK Vs. GEEK SHOWDOWN!


I don't know why Trebeck is holding up the 1, but don't question it!

Ken Jennings Vs. Watson Vs. Brad Rutter is the best 3 way competition since Bird, Magic, and Jordan were competing for the title of best in the game in the late 80’s.

In this scenario Ken Jennings has to be Magic. The person who is most known to the public for his accomplishments and is recognized by the public as the best of the 3.

Brad Rutter will assume the role of Larry Bird for the 3 day competition. He may not be as recognized to the common fan as Jennings, but true fans know that Rutter has beaten Jennings head to head every time they have faced off. Also Rutter’s run as champion (5 days) was stopped by the term limit of Jeopardy’s rules in the early 2000’s. After Rutter the rules were changed paving the way for Jennings run. No matter what Watson does the Jennings Vs, Rutter side plot will be as fun  (and as trivial) to watch and  as the 1992 battle in the Olympic Decathlon between Dan and Dave

(If Any man actually remembers the Dan Vs. Dave ad campaign please email me at because I think we can be friends. And if any woman remember that ad campaign email me because you are my future wife)

Watson is the Jordan of this contest. The young upstart who has far more talent than the other 2, but the public isn’t sure he is ready to be at the top of the mountain. Will his computer ego make him vulnerable to the upset from 2 of the best us humans can put up? We shall se by Thursday.

After the first 2 days I have a few issues with the Jeopardy-IBM challenge:

1) they didn’t make it a big enough event.

This seems to me on the surface as one of those things we will look back on as the Paul Revere’s Ride type of events. This is a computer taking on the best that humans have to offer in a competition and its only a syndicated show that airs at different times around the country?

This should have been a network prime time event spread over 4 days.

Monday- 12 Minute introduction of the technology and story behind Watson, as well as 7 minute features on Jennings and Rutter to get America familiar with the contestants. HBO started this idea of getting to know competitors in major as characters as well as combatants with the amazing 24/7 series.


2) Tape Delay effect

Just like cheesy award shows the results of the Jeopardy-IBM Challenge could be found 20 minutes after the results of each day were known. If you want to build ratings or response about your event the entire country needs the chance to watch it at the same time.

This past Sunday the Grammy’s were held 10 miles from my apartment at the Staples Center, but because of CBS’s terrible use of time zone tape delay the suspense of the event was taken away from the mountain and pacific time zones. Granted the Grammy’s have less suspense than an Episode of “Mike and Molly,” but who cares.

The same goes for the Jeopardy-IBM Challenge. I had to basically stay off the internet for 4 hours to avoid the spoilers over the day 2 results. It’s not like this is an episode of Grey’s Anatomy this is a major achievement in science and a big step in technology for the future. Imagine if people on the west coast had to watch the Super Bowl 3 hours after it happened. I think it’d look like this.

If this was the case I would probably be like this guy.

I understand stealing the underwear, but why the giant crayon? Was that the best thing you could find buddy? You know you need to get to Black Friday early.

3) They played down the competition aspect

Everyone who gets on Jeopardy wants to win. I can’t think of many Ice breakers with a girl than “I was a Jeopardy champion” The producers used the IBM challenge to showcase the science rather than build up the  battle of Man vs. Machine. This could have been the biggest showdown of man vs. machine since Drago Vs. Balboa.

ESPN missed the boat on this one. If you have the time and money to show a North Carolina A&T Vs. Hampton Women’s basketball game you have the resources to make the Jeopardy-IBM challenge a primetime event. Remember this is a network that made poker cool! Imagine what they could have done with jeopardy and a supercomputer.

Also if ESPN got the rights for this event we could see pep talks to Jennings and Rutter  from a former coach that has no idea what the hell is going on. Like Herm Edwards talking basketball.

These next  days will be great television for Jeopardy fans, and could help determine the future of how humans interact with computers. It could have been one of history’s best marketing gimmick. Someone dropped the ball here and I am guessing it’s IBM, because we all know compunerds can’t catch.

Watson Vs. Jennings Vs. Rutter may be a turning point in technology or not. Only time will tell, but even if Watson wins the human race’s savior will be close at hand.


I will post my thoughts on the actual competition tomorrow.


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