Last time, we looked at some of the secrets to winning on Jeopardy. But knowing how to win means nothing if you can’t get on the show. How do I try out for Jeopardy? What should I expect when I get there? What happens during show tapings?
A lot goes on before a contestant ever sets foot on the Jeopardy sound stage in Los Angeles, and once there a lot happens that viewers never see on their TV screens. Here’s a look at a few of those behind-the-scenes secrets.
9. The Highest Hurdle
You can have a head stuffed full of trivia, but if you can’t get on the game, it’s not doing you a whole lot of good short of impressing (or boring) your friends. The first problem is getting the attention of the Jeopardy producers.
In years past, the Jeopardy crew conducted contestant searches in major cities around the country. Local network affiliates announced the upcoming search, urging viewers to send in a postcard with their contact information. Potential contestants were then chosen by random from those cards, meaning the highest hurdle had nothing to do with your Jeopardy skills; it was, quite literally, a matter of luck.
I thought myself clever for sending in 10 cards. I found out later than some people sent more than a hundred. Yet on the first try they chose my card. I received a phone call telling me to report to a certain hotel ballroom at the appointed time to take the first portion of the tryout, a written test.
These days, the random postcards are dispensed with and you can take the test online at the Be a Contestant page on the Jeopardy web site — but only when they announce a contestant search, which is only a few times a year. Still, this method gives you much better odds than hoping your card is pulled from the pile.
Night after night you watch Jeopardy on TV, shouting out answers and making exasperated noises as a contestant misses something obvious, gives a boneheaded answer, or makes a foolish bet on a Daily Double.
It looks easy from the comfort of your living room, but it’s a lot harder in the studio. I know, I’ve been there. You not only have the pressure of performing in front of an audience of millions, but you’re up against two other living, breathing contestants who want to win just as much as you do.
While the game has changed a bit in the 20 years since I was a Jeopardy champ — the dollar amounts were lower then and there were no celebrity clue-givers — the game has remained essentially the same. So, is there a secret to winning on TV’s longest running quiz show?
Here are a few things to consider if you want to try out for Jeopardy. (While the game’s premise is that they give the answer and the player gives the question, for simplicity’s sake I’m just going to refer to the clue being the question and the player giving the answer.)