Simple Pleasures

The National Herald

Jeopardy! Photo: Wikimedia Commons

It’s been a long decade, generating long lists of the best and the worst. But I have an 800-word limit, so I’m going to present some positives. They don’t make headlines, but they make all those negatives bearable.

I watch every iteration of the Great British/American Baking Show. Ten amateur bakers compete in three weekly challenges. The signature is the baker’s personal best in the given category; the technical is a recipe from one of the professional host bakers, except it does not include any useful instructions; and the showstopper, a spectacular creation that lives up to its name. Each week, one contestant leaves and one is chosen star baker. Fortune, however, is a fickle mistress, and no one’s ranking is secure. The tension rises like a yeast roll. Sorry. Not sorry.

The best part of the show, though, is the generosity that the contestants exhibit. They really do encourage each other, genuinely support the winners, and sincerely console the contestant who goes home each week. They even stop what they are doing to help a colleague when a display collapses or another kitchen disaster occurs. They are clearly having fun and learning as they go, improving time management skills, reining in overly ambitious projects and wildly experimental flavors.

For what, you ask? Drum roll, please. Winners get a bouquet of flowers and a cake stand. No money. No TV or cookbook deal. Just flowers and a cake stand. It takes a certain kind of person to endure that pressure just for fun. And Paul Hollywood’s unbelievably blue eyes.

I’ve watched Jeopardy since I was a kid. One contestant even inspired my daughter’s middle name. When Ken Jennings won 74 consecutive games, I was fascinated by his breadth of knowledge. Not how he knew things but, rather, why. Some of the stuff was so arcane, I wondered what kind of mind told itself, “I have to know that!” James Holzhauer changed the game forever, starting at the bottom of categories, amassing substantial dollars before finding the daily doubles he bet everything on. I marveled at his nerve – chutzpah, really – even though I shouldn’t have been surprised. He’s a professional gambler after all. Brad Rutter currently holds the record for most money won on Jeopardy, with a collective $4,688,436. I don’t remember him at all. Until now.

‘The Greatest of All Time’ Tournament features the three champions in a mind-blowing competition. The first to win three games gets $1million and incredible bragging rights. Watching them is exhausting. They have learned from Holzhauer, that’s for sure. They start at the bottom, move around the board, and bet it all every time. They even mime his gesture – he looks like he’s sliding all the chips into the center of the table – for the daily doubles. So far, Jennings has won two games, and Holzhauer has won one. These guys are definitely playing for more than a bouquet and a cake plate. But the spirit feels the same, almost playful. They shake hands, applaud each other, and sport purple ribbons in support of Alex Trebek. Even the money seems moot at this point. Rather, the reward is being together with America’s favorite, bravest game show host ever.

Steve Hartman, a national correspondent for CBS News, is best known for his On the Road segments, which air on Friday evenings and Sunday mornings. These are feel-good stories about regular people and the kindness they display toward their neighbors and even complete strangers. He has the best job in the world, interviewing an entire town that learned how to sign in order to communicate with a little girl who is hearing-impaired; two little girls, one black, one white, who are such good friends that they believe they are twins and dare anyone to say otherwise; the school bus driver who treats his tiny passengers like his own children and was rewarded for his thoughtfulness with a car from an anonymous viewer; the Secret Santa who emerges annually to give cash gifts to strangers in need.

Recently, Hartman shared his ancestry DNA results. His mother, who was born out of wedlock, had Jewish roots but never knew her family. His father was a Lothario and a drinker. “Not exactly the astronaut or war hero I was hoping to find,” Hartman states. But, he continues. “Look deep enough into your past and odds are you'll find a family tree full of flowers and broken branches and a lot of leaves you don't recognize. Whatever is there, it's exactly what your tree needed to grow the perfect you.”

Fifty years of stories that restore our faith in one another and ourselves, and make the news of the day – or decade – bearable.

Now watch A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, and you’ll be set for 2020.