I Remember Alex Trebek’s PITFALL

I enjoyed Noel Murray’s new piece on “The Evolution of Alex Trebek,” an overview of the career (and hairstyles) of Canada’s most famous game-show host. Murray is right that watching an old game show creates a very strong connection to the particular time and place in which we first encountered that show, of “the day-to-day idleness that makes up so much of our lives and then disappears a dim haze.” Because watching a game show is such a casual, ephemeral experience — it’s not supposed to provide any lasting emotional impact, unlike, say, a soap opera, which is at least trying to make us cry — seeing it again brings back the stuff that surrounded the viewing experience: the time, the house, the room. Certainly being reminded of Pitfall brought back images of the room I watched it in, the couch I sat on, the people I watched it with, even what I was eating at the time. I don’t know why that is, but it probably has something to do with the fact that these game shows didn’t really have stories or characters to remember (or even questions you can remember, like you might remember a hard Jeopardy! question); to be reminded of them is simply to be reminded of the act of watching them, and the comforting presence of the host.

Actually I don’t remember why I watched Pitfall, since the show was certainly canceled by the time I watched it; I know that I recognized Trebek as the guy from Jeopardy!, which he didn’t host until after Pitfall was put out of its misery. I guess someone must have picked up reruns of Pitfall to cash in on Trebek’s new and high-profile gig. I knew the show was lame, but Trebek’s soothing presence and the gimmick of the contestants going down in that magic elevator thingie made it watchable. The only time I ever encountered Trebek, I was tempted to ask him about Pitfall; I didn’t, and when I looked it up later, I was glad I didn’t: turns out the producers packed up and left without paying him or giving the contestants their prizes.

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