In Praise of Good Journalism: The Hunt for the Missing Jeopardy! Champion


In a change of gears, delivering credit for a compelling piece in The Ringer about a decades-long mystery involving the game show Jeopardy! is worthwhile.

As a means of showing I do not harbor only disdain for the press, I felt it was probably due time to share a compelling piece of journalism. I know that in my coverage here on the front page, my podcast Lie-Able Sources, as well as my daily media column at Townhall, “Riffed From The Headlines,” I can appear like an ever-abrasive sort towards the press. While I have fallen into the role of a designated media antagonist, it may sometimes appear as if I have a deep-rooted animosity towards journalists. In truth, the opposite is in play. 


Myself, and my partner in media cynicism Sister Toldjah, hold high regard for the industry, which is why we spend our energies policing the journalism complex for the violators of the ethics that are supposed to be in effect. I strive for those levels and have an appreciation for the investigation, research, and the search for the story that resides within the facts, so it is worthwhile to note when I get struck by those same characteristics in the work.

Over at The Ringer, their sports and culture writer, Claire McNear, weaves an engaging piece about an enduring myth surrounding one of our most iconic game shows – The Search for the Lost ‘Jeopardy!’ Tapes Is Over. The Mystery Behind Them Endures.

Not surprisingly, there are numerous sub-cultures that exist surrounding the game show Jeopardy!, and there has been percolating for decades one particular mystery regarding some missing episodes and a “lost” Jeopardy! Champion. McNear takes us along on a quest that has been playing out for years to unearth these known-to-once-exist shows and figure out this bafflement, and it is a testament to the passion of those with an affinity for an item in our culture.

Once a daytime fixture in the 1960s and ‘70s, with host Art Lang, Jeopardy! was eventually canceled in 1975. The game show was brought back into syndication in the 1980s by Merv Griffin Productions, and quickly the revamped show, helmed by longtime game show host Alex Trebek, became a hit, then a staple, and then a cultural touchstone. In most markets, it is preceded by Wheel of Fortune, another rebooted daytime fixture that serves as the polar opposite as far as participation; one is based on inherent elevated knowledge, and the other relies on snappy catchphrases and luck.


In the early iteration of the game, there was a limit on those who were repeat champs. You could win no more than five contests in a row, and then you were retired, set to then later appear in the season-ending Tournament of Champions. Die-hard fans who compile records, websites, and wikis of Jeopardy! lore know well the story of the missing champion. Barbara Lowe was a five-time winner in the 1986 season, earning over $30,000 in her run, but for years – decades – her appearance was a vapor in the annals of the game.

AP/Reuters Feed Library

Lowe did not appear in that season’s champion’s tournament. Sites that collect and offered past years of games for viewing had a notable five-game gap in the records. Syndication offered no peek at these episodes and when those early years were rerun on The Game Show Network, again, the five Lowe shows were a no-show. McNear does a nice job setting up this mystery and then delving into the enduring search by many to reach a conclusion about what happened with this seemingly intentional exclusion.

While initially, you can say this is just pop-culture froth, what you get is an engaging read that pulls you in, fascinates, and follows a trail that carries you along. Claire McNear does some good leg work, researches and compiles key facets of the backstory, and delivers a pretty satisfying result that sheds light on a common component of our culture. Do yourself the favor of carving out some time to enjoy this one.


This is good reading with a wide array of characters involved and compelling facts served up in an engaging form.

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