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9 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets From Jeopardy

8. Patience Required

My initial stage of the contestant search began with about 500 people in a large hotel ballroom. We received a written test: 15 minutes to answer 50 Jeopardy-like questions. (In a concession to time, you didn’t have to answer in the form of a question.) That gave you 18 seconds per question to read, comprehend, and write down the answer. (Sample question: “This state postal abbreviation is an antonym for ‘full’.” Answer: MT.)

They collected the tests, and Alex Trebek came out and schmoozed the room for the half hour or so it took for grading. Afterward, if your name was called, you stayed. Everyone else — better luck next time. There were only 13 of us left. They didn’t tell us what made a passing score. I know I didn’t have a perfect score, as there were two questions I had no idea on. I suspect I was in the 46-47 range, though. Today’s web-based test runs much the same, except you write your answers on your computer. (I haven’t taken the real thing, though, because, by rule, I can’t try out again.)

But a passing grade is only the beginning. Those selected go to the next round, these days held in several cities around the country. (You pay your own travel expenses.) There, the Jeopardy producers look for not just those with trivia crammed into their heads but people who will play well on TV — “play well” as in not embarrassing themselves or the show by cursing, pissing their pants, or otherwise being untelegenic. They’re also looking for a good balance between men and women, and I’m sure they’re looking for some racial diversity, too.

Finding these sorts first involves a practice round. (In my session one of the contestants muttered the queen-mother of all dirty words after a wrong answer. I’m guessing he never got called back.) They then conduct quick, informal interviews. The search concludes with each contestant having to speak extemporaneously for a minute.

The producers then utter the six words guaranteed to interfere with your sleep for the next year: Don’t call us. We’ll call you. In other words, you may have done great on everything, but that still doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily make it on the show.