The Jeopardy! Power Players' Tournament is filming in DAR Constitution Hall, located at 1776 D Street Northwest in Washington, D.C. The Hall was originally built in the 1930s as a convention space by the Daughters of the American Revolution, but has more recently hosted shows by performers like Robin Williams and Whitney Houston. Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy!'s underachieving sister game show, has also filmed in this location, but the breadth and depth of the building's history make it uniquely suited to Jeopardy! —a game show whose breadth and depth far outclasses anything else in the genre.
It would be hard to top the attention-grabbing "IBM Challenge" from last year—in which Jeopardy!'s two all-time best players were soundly defeated by a computer called Watson—but the show has assembled an impressive and eclectic group of Power Players this year: commentators like Anderson Cooper and Chris Wallace, former White House Press Secretaries Robert Gibbs and Dana Perino, legendary basketballer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and comedian Lewis Black. But it's clear from the moment he walks onto the stage that despite the 15 celebrities playing the game, Alex Trebek is the star of this show. The host is both funnier and stranger than one might expect from his TV persona, alternating between quick-witted barbs (when asked whether he prefers blondes or brunettes: "at this stage of my life, gray") and loopy, rambling candor (turning back to the crowd, after confessing to a young audience member that he doesn't have a favorite comic book: "I know it's going to be a disappointment. I can see it now. He'll be 17 years old, doing drugs...").
Alex Trebek is, without question, the greatest game show host of all time, which is why the recent news that he's been "thinking of retiring"—two years from now—was met with responses that bordered on apocalyptic. His voice is crisp and modulated, and he never stutters. When he answers questions, his eyes tend to drift away from you as he's talking, as if his brain is some vast supercomputer that takes time to search. Trebek is perfectly comfortable in himself on the set of his show. One has the sense that this is what he was born to do, and it's hard to imagine who could replace him (though all-time Jeopardy! champ Ken Jennings is the odds-on favorite).
Trebek is alone in his ease on the set. Much of the fun of the Jeopardy! Power Players' Tournament comes in watching the contestants—so familiar and comfortable in their own public personas—get nervous. When each contestant is asked about their hopes and predictions for the game, the most common response is that they want to avoid looking like a complete idiot. (Thomas Friedman calls it the journalistic Hunger Games: "I just want to be there at the end."). But Jeopardy! is something like a cross between a game of chance and an IQ test: You either have the knowledge, and the speed to buzz in first, or you don't. "How do you prepare for knowledge?" asks Lewis Black. The implied answer is that it's impossible, and he's right, but that doesn't mean that some contestants haven't tried. Robert Gibbs cops to practicing with the Jeopardy! app on his smartphone. CNN's Lizzie O'Leary watched each episode from the preceding week, a number soundly beaten by Dana Perino, who has faithfully watched Jeopardy! since the third grade.