We are pleased to present Jeopardy! champion and Times & Seasons reader Ken Jenning’s responses to 12 Questions posed by the bloggernacle. The first six are posted below; we’ll post the final six on Monday.
1. Answer: Late Night with David Letterman and The Tonight Show
Question: What are two programs I generally skip in favor of a replay of The Daily Show?
I had a fascinating chance to closely compare the Letterman and Leno shows, since I taped them only a week apart. Both shows oddly reflect the personality of their hosts and the cities where they operate. Late Night is quintessentially New York: a barely controlled anarchy, where everyone, even the girl bringing the bottled water, is as unpredictable and prickly and funny as the big boss. The Tonight Show is much more California. It’s well-oiled, even micro-managed–my “pre-interview” took over a dozen separate phone calls! And the whole staff is as accommodating and schmoozy and
glad-handing as the host is.
Letterman’s a lifelong hero of mine, by the way, and it was a thrill to meet him. I’m sure Relief Societies across America were a little taken aback to hear me say, “Who gives a rat’s ass?” as part of the Top Ten. A handful of members of my own ward certainly didn’t spare their disapproval. But I didn’t think twice about doing it once they gave me the list. It wouldn’t remotely offend me to say (or hear) it in real life, so why quibble about it in a scripted comedy bit? I saw it as a great opportunity to demonstrate that Latter-day Saints, even Utah ones, aren’t as homogenous or dull as stereotypes might suggest.
2. Answer: Daily Double Strategy
Question: What is something you don’t really need to worry about when you’re already ahead by $20K?
But I kid. I bet pretty intuitively on Daily Doubles, trying to judge how hard the other questions in the category have been. Often I try to assure a correct response would make my score a nice round number, as a show of solidarity with viewers who suffer from OCD. I’ve bet the farm in some cases just because the category seemed tailored to me (“The Academy Awards” or “Shakespeare,” for example). Often I’ll be more conservative on the last Daily Double, since I now know that there aren’t any left for the other two players to find, and the lead is therefore pretty safe. Since I haven’t been all that sharp at Final Jeopardy, I try to use Daily Doubles to lock the game up before the final question (in other words, to double up my nearest competitor) but not enough to lose the lead if I were to get it wrong. Ah, game show strategy. I’m sure many eyes are glazing over.
3. Answer: Brigham Young University
Question: What is a nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there?
My wife and I were batting this BYU question back and forth over the weekend. We’re both recent BYU graduates, but neither us have the strong, polarized opinions about the Y that many alumni do, either positive (“Go mighty Cougars!”) or negative (“That’s Satan’s plan!”) I look back fondly on many aspects of my on-campus experience (International Cinema, helping to run a popular intramural and intermural quiz bowl program, seeing Eric Samuelsen’s Gadianton performed for the first time, mastering my illegal campus parking techniques) and a few still leave a sour taste (like the peek behind the bureaucratic curtain that I got when the Honors Department de-funded the quiz bowl program).
I had many proficient, effective professors in both the English and Computer Science departments, though I have to admit that, especially for an institution that focuses so strongly on undergraduate education, there were few who were really great or memorable or life-changing presences in any way. Maybe this says more about me than about anything else, and I should have been paying more attention to class lectures and less to the crossword in the Daily Universe. In any case, because the faculty failed to make much of an impression, the structural unit of my BYU experience was not the class or the department, but the ward. I would guess that many BYU grads share this perception. Despite the transient nature of student life, the student wards I lived in had a cohesiveness and a surprising sense of family and community that far outstrips any family ward I’ve lived in since. And that’s mostly what I came to Provo for anyway: LDS friends and a social scene that wasn’t as alcohol-soaked as what I’d seen elsewhere.
4. Answer: My mission
Question: What was the best six months of my life?
(“Best six months” joke copyright 1990 Earl Cahill, my long-time BYU roomate.) After growing up in Seoul, Korea, I spent my freshman year studying up on Korean for dummies, since I knew very well that I wasn’t very fluent, and that a mission call to Korea was very likely in the cards for me. My Korean was actually getting pretty good by the time my call arrived…to Madrid, Spain.
Spain is incredible, and I had the best time on my mission. It was one of those experiences that’s so dense and intense that you can’t really believe how much happened in such a short time. Even the hard or dull times have acquired a rosy, nostalgic glow in hindsight, just because of how valuable the whole experience was to me. Most specifically, what I took home from my mission was an increased love for and testimony of the Book of Mormon. I was amazed by how differently it read when I was tearing through it like a novel and not sleepily reading a bite-sized chunk every night. I also find it harder to take the Book of Mormon for granted after watching how quickly it can surprise and change the lives of people (investigators, mostly) who didn’t grow up with it like I did.
Those of you who served European missions can probably guess that Spaniards, with their centuries of engrained Catholicism, don’t comprise the most open and receptive culture in which to spread new religious ideas. As the old folks always joked to us, “I don’t even believe in my religion, and mine’s the true one! Why should I believe in yours?” But we still had just enough success to keep us going, and appreciated it more for its rarity. My first trainee and I taught a wonderful pair of Spanish sisters, whom we contacted one day just minutes after we had specifically prayed–the only time on my mission I remembering doing this–for increased faith that our usually-fruitless contacting would actually result in someone to teach. These two knew the church was true almost immediately but wavered for months about baptism. They went through missionaries like missionaries go through suit pants, but were finally baptized a year later. Since I told a faith-promoting Missionary Success story, I guess I should include some Mission Weirdo story as well. Okay, I also had a companion who would spend discussions blowing free-floating spit bubbles into the air and falling asleep, and who now runs a remarkably cracked anti-Mormon website. There you go.
5. Scriptures: Compact, Standard, or Large. Quad or two-volume? Favorite story, passage, prophet, or whatever?
Compact quad, at the moment, but I was a standard quad guy for most of my life. Just goes to show how it’s never too late to change. I never got a missionary plaque, but if I had, the scripture on it would probably be Matthew 11:29-30 (“My yoke is easy, and my burden is light”) or Alma 30:44 (“All things denote there is a God.”)
6. What is your favorite kind of literature? Non-fiction? Favorite authors and books? Ratio of fiction: non-fiction reading?
I don’t read nonfiction at all, I’m sorry to say. Well, that’s not totally true. I made it through the John Adams biography for a book club not long ago, and thought Fast Food Nation was brilliant. And I have O’Reilly’s nonfiction gem Java Servlet Programming sitting open on my desk right now! But most of the time, I’d rather be reading a novel or short stories. I have an unaccountable fondness for the mammoth, ambitious, contains-all-of-human-existence kind of Great Novel…Proust, Moby-Dick, Brothers Karamazov, One Hundred Years of Solitude, that kind of thing. Other favorite authors, in no particular order: Fitzgerald, Woolf, Borges, Joyce, Hardy, Conrad, Graham Greene. Authors I like who are still breathing: Haruki Murakami, Philip Roth, Byatt, Rushide, Atwood, Ishiguro, Richard Russo, Ian McEwan, Updike, Michael Chabon. Those are pretty boring, mainstream choices, I guess, but I was trying to list people where you could pick just about anything they’d written and not go wrong. My real passion is books with pictures: cartoonists old (Winsor McCay, Charles Schulz, Hal Foster) and new (Chris Ware, Craig Thompson, Jason Lutes).