A.: This is the story of a working-class guy from Ohio with little real knowledge of Ambidextrous Presidents, Things Made from Rubber, and hundreds of other categories, but who nonetheless plunges so far into cramming for Jeopardy! that it changes his relationships, bends his worldview, and literally leads him to the ends of the earth, trying to understand it all.
Q.: What is Prisoner of Trebekistan?
Welcome to a world where obscure information is crucial to survival, vast sums of cash are at stake, and milliseconds can change not just a game but the course of your entire life. (Plus, you could win two Camaros and enough Bon Ami cleanser to scrub a small nation.)
Prisoner of Trebekistan is Bob Harris's hilarious, insightful account of one man's unlikely epic journey through Jeopardy!, gleefully exploring triumph and failure, the nature of memory, and how knowledge itself can transform you in unpredictable ways - all against the backdrop of the most popular quiz show in history.
In Prisoner of Trebekistan, Bob chronicles his transformation from a struggling stand-up comic who repeatedly fails the Jeopardy! audition test into an elite player competing against the show's most powerful brains. To get there, he embarks on a series of intense study sessions, using his sense of humor to transform conventional memory skills into a refreshingly playful approach to learning that's as amusing as it is powerful. What follows is not only a captivating series of high-stakes wins and losses on Jeopardy!, but also a growing appreciation of a borderless world that Bob calls Trebekistan, where a love of learning reigns and the smarter you get the more you realize how much you don't yet know.
Filled with secrets that only a veteran contestant could share - from counterintuitive game strategies to Jedi-like tactics with the Jeopardy! signaling device - Prisoner of Trebekistan also gives you the chance to play along with the actual clues that led to victory or defeat in high-level tournaments, plus candid, moving reflections on how the games affected Bob's offstage life - and vice versa.
Not only an irresistible treat for Jeopardy! fans, Prisoner of Trebekistan is a delight for anyone who loves a rollicking tale that celebrates the unpredictability of life and the sneaky way it has of teaching us the things that really matter.
©2006 Bob Harris (P)2011 Audible, Inc.
"Harris has been, among other things, a stand-up comic, and it shows... lively phrases and an ear for the incongruous... a skilled storeyteller... pulls you in like a good sports story." (The New Yotk Times Book Review)
"A rollicking ride of intellectual discovery and emotional growth. He provokes much laughter - unlike his buzzer skills, his comic timing never fails him - and a few unexpected tears.... It's a pleasure to tag along." (The Wall Street Journal)
At around the 2/3 mark, I would've given this one four stars, but having finished listening last night, I can't quite muster that much enthusiasm, although I do recommend the book. Here's the scoop for those who feel they might be interested in Bob's story ...
The first half consists of Bob's own background, as well as the run up to his selection for his (first) appearance on the show. That he went to prep school, on a scholarship, from a working-class family was interesting; although, I could've used a bit less angst regarding his guilt over his sister's not having been able to do the same. He goes off to college for a degree in electrical engineering, which it seems he never really wanted to study, except that it was more "practical" than a liberal arts curriculum. Then it was off to the stand up comedy circuit - so much for that technical stuff.
He gets selected for an appearance on the show, with the focus shifting to very intense full-time cram sessions, which eventually lead to the break up of his then-current relationship. Jumping ahead slightly, we're introduced to several other show winners over the course of the book, but we never hear their prep stories; so, it remains frustrating to me as to whether Bob went overboard (at least somewhat), or whether others generally cram (almost) as much as he did? Back then, there was a five-game limit, which Bob managed to achieve, filling us in on the first-hand experience; I had no idea that they film 10 games per week, two days of 5 each, which makes sense if most contestants can't cool their heels in L. A. forever. Contestants bring three changes of clothes per day.
After that, the story went somewhat downhill for me, as Bob made "Jeopardy honcho" pretty much a lifestyle, appearing at industry conventions, and scoring a followup stint on a another quiz show, that failed badly, though not before Bob could brag about what easy money he scored off it; this was the only time he seemed obnoxious, but proved a harbinger of the rest of the story.
In a nutshell - he's invited back for not one, but two, reunion tournaments. which become a bit tedious, consisting of name-dropping of other winners who have become his friends (or at least acquaintances), along with question-by-question replays of his experiences in the games themselves. On the memoir front, away from Jeopardy, there's a new significant other in his life (Jane), more detail on his sister's serious medical issues (which had been touched on earlier), and highlights from Bob's global tour.
My final impression: the author's a smart, funny guy, who wrote a book that should've been shorter. I really didn't need all those reunion details, which were overkill - and I'm a huge fan of the show! During those, more than once he calls upon his clever pneumonic training to get clues that I thought were common knowledge? Again, did others cram as much as he did? He's quite mum about that, leaving me to wonder if most of them knew most of the answers without (much) cramming? If so, I inferred Bob came off as a bit of a ... hanger-on ("I'm in the kewl kidz club!"). The ending isn't so much abrupt, as inconclusive.
Recommended as an audio book for the narration, which earned a solid five stars from me.
Brainiac by Ken Jensen
He was amusing and gave character to the dialog!
It made me laugh out loud, so my family kept asking me what was happening. Best to listen to this book when you are by yourself!
This book gives insight into the world of Jeopardy, entertaining, and engaging!
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