1. You Don’t Have to Keep the Prizes
For the first 18 seasons of Jeopardy, the second- and third-place contestant got prizes, not cash. It could vary anywhere from a set of flatware to a trip to some exotic locale. In fact, on the day I won the guy who came in second got a set of vertical blinds. On the day I finished second, the prize was a week in Hawaii. Go figure.
Everyone was offered a variety of other prizes that were little more than advertising plugs for various products such as spray starch, Pop Tarts, and Doan’s Pills. You have to pay tax on the value of the prize, so if you didn’t want it, you could check a box on a form that all contestants sign after their game. I accepted the case of Pop Tarts — we were eating the things for months — and the $250 certificate for women’s clothes from a chain store that no longer exists.
In May 2002 Jeopardy switched to cash prizes of $2,000 for second place and $1,000 for third place and completely eliminated the junk prizes.
It took almost four months for my prize check to arrive—sans taxes, of course. Because I worked in New York City, lived in New Jersey, and won the money in California, that year I had to file five tax returns: Federal, New York City, New York State, New Jersey, and California. Of my $12,600 winnings, I netted less than $10,000. (And people wonder why I’m a conservative!)