However easy the questions on Jeopardy may seem from your couch at home, as many competitors can tell you, being in front of the cameras makes it a whole different game.
Erased From Memory
Game shows are strictly regulated, with infractions resulting in some big penalties… In 1999 Jeff Kirby finished in third place but decided to make a comeback 10 years later. Though he won, he had broken the rules about not competing again unless invited back, so they took his winnings and canceled any reruns.
Praying for a Pass
During Ken Jennings’ unforgettable winning streak, he had an opponent who threatened to overshadow him, at least in terms of earning a laugh. When Ben Wiles didn’t know the answer to a Final Jeopardy question, he wrote, “See next podium” with an arrow as his answer. However, he’d accidentally pointed it at the other contestant, not Jennings. In an ironic twist, it turned out that Wiles chose the right opponent as Jennings got it wrong while Lisa Ellis answered correctly.
Rolling in Lies
Much like many other games shows, episodes of Jeopardy are shot in several months in advance, meaning that cast members have to keep their lips sealed until all of their episodes have aired. During Ken Jennings’ record-breaking winning streak, he revealed that his boss had to continuously come up with new lies in order to cover for his absences on alternating Tuesdays and Wednesdays as Jennings flew to LA to tape an increasing number of Jeopardy episodes.
Changing the Game
For those who have looked into the prizes Jeopardy offers those who don’t come in first place, they can stand in stark contrast to the money a winner takes home. However, this wasn’t always the case. Back during the show’s initial run in the 1960s, one man was determined to win the amount he needed in order to buy an engagement ring. Once he hit his mark, he didn’t try answering for the rest of the game, after which, they changed the rules.
Game shows are so heavily regulated to prevent cheating, that Ken Jennings almost got disqualified for a misstep that wasn’t even his fault. According to the champion, there was one episode where the wardrobe team decided halfway through taping that they didn’t like his tie. Instead of sending him backstage, they sent him to Alex Trebek’s secret mirror. However, that also caused him to edge towards the area where the answers were, which caused the producers to flip out. The infraction could have earned jail time.
Cutting the Tension
In a famous behind the scenes moment, Alex Trebek took a contestant request quite seriously during the 2005 Tournament of Champions. After the contestants requested that no one wear pants in order to lighten the mood, the cameras came to take a look behind the podium (which was also their request). However, all three of them had put bottoms on that day, leaving Trebek as the only one without pants. Upon realizing this, he slowly walked off the stage.
Catching the Rhythm
A number of past contestants have let us in on one of Jeopardy’s dirty little secrets. While it might seem that it’s all about being the fastest to hit the buzzer, you have to be careful not to be too fast. As David Walter, a Teen Jeopardy winner explained that it all comes down to speed and skill. If you buzz in before Alex finishes the clue, your buzzer will be disabled for half a second. It seems small, but it makes a difference.
Only Losers Here
It’s not easy to tie in Jeopardy, especially if you’re strategic with your betting. However, there have been a handful of cases where nobody won. That doesn’t mean a tie in the traditional sense, though it does happen time and again. Rather, there have been multiple instances where all three contestants were left with a grand total of $0 by the time they’d finished Final Jeopardy. With no winners, that means that none of them would remain for the next episode.
Never Tell Me the Odds
Contestants aren’t usually required to be good at math in order to successfully answer the questions. However, any fan of the show knows that the key to being a good winner is to understand exactly how to bet for Final Jeopardy. Give that you have to risk your chances before you know the answer, some contestants have shown up with mathematical equations to help them place their bet. Others have taken to studying game theory in order to bet the right amount of money.
For many, winning Jeopardy is not just about the glory of showing how much you know, it’s taking home a big fat check at the end of the tournament. However, as a number of contestants have revealed, it can take several months before your winnings actually arrive. That means that even if you have plans for your prize money, you better not plan on using it for at least six months. The delay has to do with verifying the winner’s identity more than anything.
Crossing Your T’s
As a number of contestants have gone on to learn, the Jeopardy judges are extremely detailed when it comes to your answers. If you accidentally mispronounce and answer, even if it’s correct, you will likely be considered wrong, as was the case for the person who said “Wimbleton” instead of “Wimbledon.” In another case, a 12-year-old on Kids Jeopardy answered correctly with “emancipation” however, he accidentally misspelled it, which the judges found was grounds for disqualification.
Costume Fake Out
One episode of Jeopardy may air every single night in the United States, but that does not mean they’re filmed once per day. In fact, five episodes are taped every taping day, which requires both the contestants who go on winning streaks and Alex Trebek to have a change of clothes on hand. Because he changes at least five times a day, Trebek as revealed that he owns upwards of 100 different suits to keep himself from repeating them too often.
While Jeopardy has since adjusted its rules to include their Tournament of Champions style tie-breaker, there was a time when no such measure had been put in place. In 2007, three contestants tied with the same about of money – $16,000 to be exact – by the end of Final Jeopardy. Since they had no tie-breaker for a case like this, all three were allowed to advance to play a second day. Of course, in this case, they did not tie for a second time.
Facing the Tribunal
When contestants give answers that toe the line between correct and incorrect, Alex Trebek often refers to a panel of judges to evaluate the answer. Though they are never seen, the judges generally sit at the end of the stage. They might not be geniuses, but they are careful about fact-checking the answers before coming to a conclusion. There’s another important element to the judges, however. Contestants cannot look them in the eye under any circumstances.
Lips Are Sealed
In between Jeopardy rounds, Alex Trebek generally goes from contestant to contestant in order to get to know them a little better. While he may seem friendly during these chats, it’s the only time contestants are really allowed to talk to him outside of answering the clues. Despite the rule against chatting outside of the allotted timeframes, Ken Jennings shared that during his six month run on the show, he and Trebek still developed something of a rapport. As for other guests, Trebek is known to be less-than-friendly. In an interview, he once shared what really irks him: “What bothers me is when contestants jump all over the board even after the Daily Doubles have been dealt with,” Trebek said. “Why are they doing that? They’re doing themselves a disservice.”
Feeling it Out
It might seem like Jeopardy would be a difficult game to play if you lacked one of your senses given the way it’s designed. However, when Eddie Timanus was awarded a spot on the show, the producers were more than happy to make some adjustments, as Eddie is blind. In addition to adding a tone to alert him when the clue was finished, he wrote his answers in Braille. After winning five games in a row, Eddie won $90,000.
All Around the World
For those who watch Jeopardy often, you may wonder who exactly writes all of the clues. There’s actually a small team behind the clues, some writers and some knowledge experts. There’s a lot that goes into making the clues that you can’t see, however. In order to accumulate the facts they need for more than three decades worth of clues, the team gets to travel around the world for part of their fact-checking. Sounds like that might be the better gig.
Burning the Forrest
Game strategies in Jeopardy have rarely been given names, but one Jeopardy champion proved that there can be an exception to the rule. Back in 1986, Chuck Forrest dominated the Tournament of Champions by moving being categories at record speed in order to confuse his opponents. After the strategy proved successful for other contestants, it became known as “Forrest Bouncing.” However, those who have used it sometimes find that fans of the show are less pleased when contestants play that way.
Flipping the Script
Alex Trebek may spend his limited time interacting with the contestants making silly jokes, but as “serious” of a show as Jeopardy is, Trebek sure takes his pranks seriously. In 1997, Trebek went above and beyond with an April Fool’s Joke, as he switched places with Wheel of Fortune Host, Pat Sajak. During that episode, Sajak hosted Jeopardy, while Trebek hosted Wheel. Though Trebek didn’t compete on his own show, Sajak played Wheel of Fortune for charity.
I Really Mustache You a Question
In the early years of the revamped Jeopardy, Alex Trebek was known for his signature mustache. However, he decided to shave it off in the early 2000s, which sparked a huge debate among fans. Though he has occasionally brought the mustache back, he decided to use his facial hair for yet another April Fool’s joke in 2007. During the second half of the show, Trebek appeared with a fake mustache, prompting fans to wonder if it was real.
Jeopardy Wants to Be a Millionaire
Though there have been a number of records set on Jeopardy, the largest amount of money won overall by any one contestant is a record held by Brad Rutter. When Rutter first competed, no contestant could play for more than five games in a row. However, in his appearances since that first streak, Brad has never lost to a human opponent, only to the computer Watson. So far, Rutter has earned a total of $4,355,102 in Jeopardy winnings.
Top of the Class
Though Brad Rutter may hold the record for the most total winnings, he hasn’t come close to earning the highest single day record. Ken Jennings originally set the record when he took home $75,000 after answering 44 out of 60 questions in a single game. However, in 2010, Roger Craig went big and managed to take home a total of $77,000 for one single game, knocking Jennings’ score out of the park with the correct answer and a $30,000 Final Jeopardy wager.
Writing from the Past
You may have wondered why no matter who is playing, the Final Jeopardy answers look like they were all scribbled by a small child. As Jennings later revealed, the reason for that is the comically large pens that the contestants have to write their answers with. Not only that, the screens they’re writing on don’t actually match the size of the pens they’re using, making it even more difficult to write their answers neatly during Final Jeopardy.
Raising the Tile
In case it never dawned on you, Jeopardy contestants all appear to be the same height, whether or not they really are. According to contestants who have competed on the show, behind the famous podiums are hidden tiles, which can be raised or lowered, depending on the height of the contestant. This way, no one will feel like they are towering over the others, plus it maintains the esthetic of everyone being at the same eye-level.
After presiding over one of the most well-respected “knowledge games” ever recorded, it seems likely that Alex Trebek has picked up a lot of trivia. Though he isn’t necessarily a genius, he definitely can boast some impressive skills. A Canadian native, Trebek has been bilingual in French and English from an early age. That’s not all though. Some have claimed that Trebek can speak anywhere between five and 17 languages, however, he maintains that really he only speaks a little Spanish.
Slip of the Tongue
There are times when contestants get a little bit tongue-tied as they try to figure out the correct answers to the clues. However, in a recent episode, one contestant’s outlandish response to a clue prompted Alex Trebek to repeat an interesting vulgarity. One particularly divisive contestant, Austin Rogers, concluded a 12-game winning streak with quite a bang when he guessed “d–ktree” as an answer to a clue. Trebek happily repeated the wrong answer, wondering how that of all things came to mind.