Behind the Scenes Jeopardy! Facts the Producers Really Don’t Want You to Know

Wed Apr 13 2022

Television game shows are hugely popular, and while there are countless game shows shown on small screens across the globe, none are quite as popular as Jeopardy! The aim of this game is a little different from most; with contestants being presented with general knowledge clues in the form of answers, meaning it’s their job to phrase their responses in the form of the correct questions. The show is legendary, and you may have even dreamt of being on it yourself.

While Jeopardy! fans may watch this show religiously and play along with their friends and family at home, there’s so much more that goes on behind the scenes that are hidden from the general public. We’re talking about secret gameshow rules that only apply in unorthodox situations, drama involving the game show hosts (both old and new), and filming practices the producers just really don’t want you to know. Yes, there’s so much more to this show than meets the eye.

The Show’s Acceptance Rate Is Lower Than an Ivy League College

As Jeopardy! is one of the most famous game shows in the world, it should come as no surprise to learn that people from across the United States want to have a go themselves. Of course, applications are open to anyone and everyone – but the acceptance rate is so low that you’re more likely to be accepted into an Ivy League college than you are to be accepted on Jeopardy!

It’s been noted that around 300,000 people apply to be on the show each year, and there’s approximately a one-year waitlist before you can even take the pre-show test. To pass this test you have to answer a whopping 50 questions in 15 minutes – an incredible feat that only around 3,000 people are able to complete. Even then you’re not guaranteed a place on the show, and only 0.4% of people who apply actually make it in front of the cameras.

Passing the Pre-Show Test Isn’t Enough to Guarantee You a Spot

Passing the pre-show test to appear on Jeopardy! is one that only a few can do, but being able to pass this almost-impossible test still isn’t a sure-fire way onto the show. Around 1% of those who take the test are able to move forward to the next few rounds, which include various auditions, more tests, and practice sessions where you take part in a mock show in front of the producers.

According to reports, these extra special measures are taken to ensure that only the best people make their way in front of a live studio audience and in front of people at home. Producers supposedly look for contestants’ ability to master the buzzer, their responses to the questions and answers, and their general persona. After all, they’re still making a television show, and want to make it as entertaining as possible.

The Jeopardy! Buzzer Is Stricter Than You’d Think

Every Jeopardy! fan will know that the buzzer is everything. This buzzer allows a contestant to stake a claim on an answer, but the buzzer on this show is a little different from the buzzers on other game shows. In fact, the Jeopardy! buzzer is much stricter – and actually has the ability to lock a contestant out of that particular round of questioning.

The production team has made sure that eager contestants can’t buzz too early – i.e before the question has been read in full. If a contestant answers prematurely, they disable the buzzer for a quarter of a second, meaning that they can’t press it again until this lockdown has come to an end. While this may not seem like a huge amount of time, this quarter of a second can be the difference between winning and losing.

Alex Trebek’s Actions Were Monitored During Commercial Breaks

Just as the show Jeopardy! breaks for commercials, filming also does the same thing. But when former host Alex Trebek had time to breathe while these commercials were running, his actions were monitored heavily by the production team. That’s because one of the strictest rules on-set was that he wasn’t allowed to interact with the contestants playing the game at all.

Alex wasn’t allowed to interact with the players because the production team didn’t want them being influenced by anything, but Trebek didn’t mind too much. During this time he would simply turn to the audience and take questions from them instead, something that went down a treat with those who had turned up to watch the show.

The Team Films More Than One Episode Each Day

In normal, everyday life, you complete tasks and jobs day by day. Things are a little different in the world of television, though. With tight schedules to stick to, most TV shows film multiple episodes on the same day – and that’s no different for Jeopardy! To be more specific, the team films around five episodes of the show per day.

Yes, the production team makes sure that they don’t leave the studio without a week’s worth of episodes under their belts. To make this work, though, they have to put some very specific measures into place – especially when it comes to the wardrobe department. It’s been noted that Alex Trebek actually owned over 100 suits, just so that he could switch up his outfits for each new episode.

The Bad Penmanship Isn’t a Reflection of the Contestants’ Handwriting

No episode of Jeopardy! would be complete without the contestants writing their names on the screens of their podiums. Not only does this screen allow us to know their names, but it also allows us to see how much they’ve won – and for the contestants to write down their questions. However, the show has long been criticized for the awful penmanship seen on these screens.

It turns out that there’s a reason for this – and it’s not because the contestants have bad handwriting in general. Those who have appeared on the show in the past have noted how difficult it is to write on a small screen with a giant stylus pen. Ken Jennings himself has even noted that “It’s like writing with an icicle on glass.”

The Show Prohibits Contestants From Making Certain Bids

Jeopardy! contestants wager all kinds of bids throughout the game. And while there aren’t too many strict rules for contestants on the show overall, there are certain rules that are enforced when it comes to these bids. Producers actually forbid the contestants from making certain bids throughout the game, and they make sure these rules are upheld during every episode.

To be more specific, contestants are forbidden from bidding $14, $69, $88, $666, and $1,488. That’s because these numbers have various different negative connotations; $69 for its sexual connotations, $14, $18, and $1488 for its links to white supremacist associations, and $666 for its links to satan as the number of the beast.

Alex Trebek Left Contestants Completely in the Dark

No game of Jeopardy! would be complete without knowing a little more about the contestants playing the game. The hosts go around to each contestant and talk to them a little bit about their personal life – but what viewers don’t see is that contestants actually submit countless personal stories before the show airs. In fact, they fill out a questionnaire.

On this questionnaire, they write all about their interests, their hobbies, and their history, and this then gets passed on to the host. When Alex Trebek hosted the show, he kept the contestants completely in the dark when it came to this personal section. He would choose a topic ahead of time to discuss, and the contestants wouldn’t know which one he chose until the cameras were rolling.

Even Losers Become Winners at the End of the Show

The aim of Jeopardy! is for each contestant to walk away with some extra cash in their pocket, but many fans of the show assume that those who turn red and lose money are instantly losers. However, that isn’t the case at all. Despite the fact that they lose money, they don’t owe the show anything at all. In fact, instead of paying the show back, the show actually gives the losers some money.

This isn’t seen on the screens, but anyone who appears on Jeopardy! walks away with money in their pocket regardless of how they perform. The contestant who bags themselves second place gets $2,000, while the third-place winner earns $1,000 just for turning up on the day and participating in the game show.

The Production Team Follows Strict Compliance When Picking a Game

Before each new season of Jeopardy! comes out, the clue-writing team ensures that they have enough games to get them through each episode. This means that the production team starts off with a whole collection of games that are ready to be played – but they make sure to follow strict compliance when picking one on each particular day.

It’s been noted that on each filming day, the games are picked completely randomly from a pool of six. This is to ensure that no cheating takes place and that everything is done by the book. In fact, they even have a designated compliance officer whose job is to pick the games at random.

The Show Wasn’t Always Called Jeopardy!

Anyone who turns on their television and sees a big blue set with a big blue game board will know that they’re watching Jeopardy! The legendary show has spawned spin-offs and board games, and the name has become synonymous with a quiz where the question is the answer. However, there was a time when Jeopardy! wasn’t called Jeopardy! at all.

When the show was originally pitched to the network, the creator Merv Griffin had the idea of calling it What’s the Question? He felt like that was fitting for such a show, as it was simple and understandable. But the network executives weren’t as convinced with the name, and NBC executive Ed Vane rejected the name because “It doesn’t have enough jeopardies.” So, the name Jeopardy! was born.

The Producers’ Expectations Are Pretty Low for the Contestants

One of the main reasons why Jeopardy! has proved to be so popular over the years is because it really is a show like no other. It’s in a league of its own, and while producers have high expectations for the show as a whole, they don’t really have high expectations for the contestants – especially when it comes to their reactions.

When you compare winning reactions on Jeopardy! to other game shows like The Price is Right, they’re pretty tame. The producers expect this, and Ken Jennings has noted that they all know they’re dealing with “the nation’s smartest academics, tech geeks, and librarians… generally introverts, in other words. So they lower their expectations and just ask winners for big smiles.”

The Clue-Writing Team Is Much Smaller Than You’d Think

Each season of Jeopardy! features around 230 games, and the show has been running for over 38 seasons across 3,000 episodes. So, it’s fair to say that the production team has needed to find the clues to accommodate these games – and that’s where the writing team comes into play. Although you’d assume that there were hundreds of people searching for clues for the show, the writing team is actually much smaller than you’d think.

All in all, there are around 14 people who work in the Jeopardy! clues department. Nine of those people are the writers who come up with all kinds of clues surrounding popular culture, sport, history, and more. Then, you have five researchers who make sure the answers and the questions match up, and that there won’t be any irregularities between the contestants’ responses and what the host has written down.

The Contestants Don’t Walk Away With Their Winnings Right Away

It’s always amazing to see people earn themselves some extra cash on Jeopardy!, especially as they have to make their way through a truly difficult quiz to earn it. But if you’ve always just assumed that the winners walked home with a check resting in their back pocket, you’d be incorrect. They certainly don’t walk away with their winnings right away.

It’s been confirmed that a winner may have to wait up to five months after they appear on the show for the money to actually appear in their bank accounts. This is because the Jeopardy! prize department has to go through rigorous processes to confirm and verify the identity of the winner, and the bank account of the winner.

Alex Trebek’s Notes to Himself Held Hidden Meanings

Alex Trebek will forever be associated with Jeopardy!, and it was a hugely sad loss when he passed away. He had his own specific way of hosting the show, and he even had his own quirks that the viewers didn’t quite understand. The prime example of this was when viewers at home saw Alex writing notes to himself on the desk during the game. What did they say?

Not only did Trebek write little notes to himself about the contestants, but he also crossed off each clue after he gave them to the contestants. This meant that he never put a foot wrong, as he never made the mistake of asking the same question twice. Of course, those who watched the show when he was on-screen will know that his plan worked in his favor.

The Contestants Prepare Themselves in an Unusual Way

If you were a contestant on Jeopardy!, how would you prepare yourself ahead of time? While there’s no doubt about the fact that you would brush up on your general knowledge before you get to the studio, producers put rules in place when the contestants turned up to film. Their green room is stripped of anything that might help them out, but former contestant Arthur Ch has confirmed that they were allowed to do one specific thing.

Before the show starts filming, the contestants are allowed to choose a film for them all to watch in the green room. These films are all vetted by Jeopardy!‘s clue-writing team to ensure that they won’t gain any unfair spoilers, but Arthur noted that “It’s to your advantage to pick a movie that contains a lot of pop culture references that you can tick off in your mind as things that won’t come up.”

The Guest Hosts All Had Their Own Way of Hosting

In November 2020, fans of Jeopardy! were shocked to hear that legendary host Alex Trebek had sadly passed away. While he had filmed much of the 37th season before he died, the show announced after his final episode that they would be continuing the production of the game show. However, before they announced an official replacement for Trebek, they would move forward with guest hosts.

These hosts included the likes of Katie Couric, Anderson Cooper, George Stephanopoulos, and even NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Every guest host had their own way of hosting, and for the football star, he decided that sticky notes were the way forward. He wrote notes like “Stand up straight”, “Don’t pick your nose/butt”, and “Slow down” as little reminders to himself on his podium.

Mayim Bialik’s Presence On-Set Has Caused All Kinds of Tension

After bringing in guest hosts to temporarily replace Alex Trebek, The Big Bang Theory‘s Mayim Bialik and former contestant Ken Jennings were sworn in as more permanent hosts to share the duty. However, Jeopardy! fans weren’t quick to warm to Mayim’s presence on-screen, and it seems as though the production team and those working behind the scenes shared the same thoughts.

OK! Magazine reported that insiders working on the show were divided on whether they thought Mayim had the skills or the personality to take on the role of host. As if that wasn’t enough, it was also suggested that Mayim isn’t one to uphold the rules that Alex Trebek put in place. She’s known for doing things how she wants, without getting the approval of the producers beforehand.

Jeopardy! is the Sister of Another Game Show You Might Recognize

Jeopardy! was created by television host and game show creator Merv Griffin in 1964, but it was his wife who gave him the idea. He noted that “My wife Julann just came up with the idea one day when we were in a plane… I was mulling over game show ideas when she noted that there had not been a successful ‘question and answer’ game on the air since the quiz show scandals. Why not do a switch, and give the answers to the contestant and let them come up with the question?”

Jeopardy! was the first game show that Merv brought to our screens, but when he realized that he had a knack and a passion for it, he decided to create another. In 1975, Merv brought Wheel of Fortune into our lives – and now the two game shows are considered to be sister shows. In fact, both are filmed in the same Sony Pictures studio lot in California.

Not Everyone Is Allowed to Apply to Be on the Show

While we already know that getting in front of the Jeopardy! camera is a feat of genius in itself, it’s important to note that not everyone is allowed to apply to be on the show in the first place. There are minimum eligibility requirements that each applicant must meet before they’re even allowed to undertake the pre-show test.

Who is ineligible to apply? Well, you’re not allowed to apply for the show if you’ve appeared on any other show hosted by the main host or any other nationally-syndicated game show within 365 days. As if that wasn’t enough, anyone who works for CBS, Sony Pictures, Quadra Productions, or any of the companies that supply prizes for Jeopardy! or Wheel of Fortune isn’t allowed to apply.

The Production Team Doesn’t Know What to Do if This Happens

The production team behind the making of Jeopardy! has all kinds of rules and regulations in place. They have schedules and they have rulebooks, and they make sure that everything is followed precisely to how they want it. However, there are occasions when the unexpected happens – and they have no idea what to do if all three contestants have zeros or negative scores after Double Jeopardy.

On the Jeopardy! website, they even state that “The Jeopardy! rule book is not a gilt-edged tome bound in Moroccan leather. It’s a living document that states that: ‘In the event all three contestants have $0 (zero) or minus amounts at the end of ‘Double Jeopardy!,’ no Final Jeopardy! round would be played.” But this would leave the production team with three minutes of screen time they would need to fill – and they don’t know how to fill it.

A Familiar Face Wrote the Jingle for the Game Show

Many shows around the world are recognizable by their theme music or title music, and the same can be said for Jeopardy! The 30-second “Think” jingle is one that fans across the globe know, and you probably sing along to it every time it comes onto our screens. But what you might not realize is that this jingle wasn’t created by a musician or a jingle specialist. In fact, it was created by the show’s creator Merv Griffin by complete accident.

When Merv came up with this jingle, he had no idea it would be used for his game show. He actually made it up while trying to get his 5-year-old son to sleep, and it became his lullaby during this bedtime routine. It took Merv less than a minute to come up with the song, but it soon became clear that it would make a great theme tune for his show. Since then, he’s made upwards of $80 million from that song alone.

The Show Has Recommended the Smartest Move of Play

The producers of Jeopardy! want all contestants to get on the show and win money on their own merit – but in the past they have often given out little snippets of advice to ensure that the show can remain as entertaining and as competitive as possible. That’s why they’ve recommended the smartest move of play, which is to work your way down the board methodically.

Yes, it’s been suggested that moving down the board by category may be the smartest and the easiest way to beat the game. This was the method that former contestant and current host Ken Jennings used when he won, and he noted that “It’s easier to follow at home, and it also helps players acclimate to a category before getting to the really hard clues.”

Jeopardy! Has Actually Been Canceled Twice

Considering Jeopardy! is one of the biggest game shows in both the United States and around the world, it’s hard to understand why it would be canceled. But, in fact, the show has actually been canceled twice over the course of its history. The first time was nine years after the show came to fruition, as the network decided that they wanted to cater for a younger audience rather than the older crowd they were bringing in.

The show was ultimately off the air for three years before they decided to bring it back – but even then it lasted for just six months before it was canceled again. After a few more years of planning and tweaking, the show was revived in 1984 with Alex Trebek in the driver’s seat. Since then, it’s been a staple on our screens. And rightly so.