‘Jeopardy!’ and romance tropes have lots in common

Mayim Bialik stands, smiling, in front of the Jeopardy counter.
Mayim Bialik served as one of the many recent Jeopardy! hosts. (Photo courtesy of Game Show Network)

I think that it was sometime between rewatching “Derry Girls” and contemplating reading “Twilight” that I realized that I was down the pop culture rabbit hole. This wasn’t entirely surprising. After all, I defended my endless television queue by saying that knowing pop culture is the only way that you can win “Jeopardy!” 

The difference here is that there is so much going on in the world right now. As I write this column, there is devastating news coming out of Afghanistan, a hurricane ravaging the South, a pandemic still raging around the world, a recall election in California and, of course, the daily hurdles of life.

How in the world can there be room in our heads for devastating and confusing world news, the details of Wednesday’s test and space to even consider the status of what will happen in next week’s television episode? I consider my shows and my books to be the escape hatch when the news gets overwhelming and the reading for next week’s class seems insurmountable, and “Jeopardy!” played a big role in my thoughts this week. 

The ongoing trickle of entertainment news these past two weeks has been the consistent debate about the new “Jeopardy!” host. After longtime host Alex Trebek’s death from pancreatic cancer, the show has been running on a rotating guest host basis. For a couple of weeks it was fan favorite LeVar Burton, then Mayim Bialik, Savannah Guthrie, Anderson Cooper and so many more. In a weird twist, it made me think about dating in books. After all, isn’t that what we do with guest hosts? It’s a 22-minute speed date in which we get to know their mannerisms, their laugh, the questions they ask and their personality. Also, just like after a real date, your family and friends text you their opinions on the match. 

Dating in books is — for lack of a better word — storied. There were the massive love triangle stories in the early 2010s where readers would proudly declare if they were “Team Gale” or “Team Jacob,” and there are those that blush if the name “Mr. Darcy” is mentioned in passing. However, the topic of dating in books today has primarily to do with tropes. The debate is often in the hallowed halls of Twitter between “enemies to lovers” or “friends to lovers.” The same end result, but different ways of getting there — either through hate or a slow burn. 

Perhaps the most popular of “enemies to lovers” right now is “Red, White, & Royal Blue” by Casey McQuiston wherein a prince of the United Kingdom (Henry) and the son of the U.S.’s first woman president (Alex) somehow go from an intense hatred for one another to seeing the possibility of love in their future. It takes place in the present day and has enough snark and heart to really appeal to most anyone. We see Alex and Henry build bridges over their previous hatred over text, and honestly, it is all insanely quotable.

This is the sort of story that got non-readers to emerge from hibernation and once again find reading in their lives during the pandemic. There is an argument to be had that all “enemies to lovers” stories stem from English major favorite “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen where Elizabeth Bennet does not immediately fall for the brooding Mr. Darcy. Of course, a story on the origins of the trope might be better suited for a paper.

For me, I do enjoy “enemies to lovers,” but I suppose that I like fluff too much and that’s why I prefer “friends to lovers.” I also believe Emily Henry to be one of the best romance authors of the moment and all of that made for a magical combination in “People We Meet on Vacation.” It is also another instance where I judge a book by its cover, read the synopsis, see “friends to lovers” and then click “add to cart.”

“People We Meet on Vacation” follows two best friends Alex and Poppy, their differing lives and the summer vacation they take every year. The previous trip they took did not go perfectly, and Poppy wants to rectify it by making the trip to solve all trips. Henry engages in the most fantastic dialogue, featuring wonderful descriptions of far-off places and capturing that elusive summer feeling.

It is also worth noting that Henry has dipped her toe in the “enemies to lovers” pond as well with “Beach Read,” which is fantastic for any aspiring authors out there who dream of writing away in a cottage with a body of water just outside the window. But, perhaps my most favorite “friends to lovers” story is “Anna and the French Kiss” by Stephanie Perkins (who is having her horror book “There’s Someone Inside Your House” adapted to Netflix in time for spooky season this October). The main character, Anna, is sent to boarding school in Paris and there she meets a group of friends and a certain British-French guy with whom she becomes friends with. Of course, he has a girlfriend.

So, maybe what I’m saying here is that my mind often finds a way to put the most seemingly disparate things together, and maybe what I’m saying here is that perhaps LeVar Burton will be a guest host. Of course, the one thing to be certain of is that I’ll be back with more book-to-media connections.

Rachel Bernstein is a senior writing about books in relation to the arts and entertainment news of the week. Her column “Read a Book Today” runs every other Friday.