Jeopardy! (1964-present) is one of the most iconic game shows ever produced. Amazingly, late host Alex Trebek made learning fun for millions across the world, and many have fond memories of watching the show with their families. Here are 12 facts fans may not have known about its production.
It’s all about the buzzer
Every Jeopardy! fan knows the importance of lightning-fast reflexes when it comes to contestants buzzing in their answers. Too slow and another steals their points; too fast and they suffer a quarter-second penalty.
During the early days of the show, contestants could buzz in whenever they liked. That grew old pretty quickly, so producers decided it was best to disable the buzzers until the host finishes reading the clue. Someone backstage activates the buzzers and signals to the contestants that they’re able to buzz in.
Lucille Ball got Alex Trebek his hosting gig
Just prior to his passing, Alex Trebek revealed that, if it hadn’t been for actress Lucille Ball, he likely never would have gotten to host Jeopardy! – and we can’t imagine a world in which he wasn’t the face of the show.
The pair first spoke while Ball was a contestant on High Rollers (1974-88), a game show Trebek hosted at the time. While the actress only appeared on one episode, she was impressed with his abilities. Rather than leave it at that, Ball approached Merv Griffin, who was looking for someone to host Jeopardy!‘s revival after Art Fleming decided not to return.
What’s it called when no one answers correctly?
One of the more shocking (and equally unexpected) things to happen on Jeopardy! is when all three contestants give the wrong answer to a single clue. While we at home often get the answers wrong, it’s expected that at least one of the people vying for the win will know the correct response.
While rare, this particular instance has a name: a “triple stumper.” No explanation needed here.
An unexpected number of ‘triple stumpers’
On the June 7, 2023 episode of Jeopardy!, something unexpected happened: there were 23 triple stumpers. It’s an episode fans of the show won’t soon forget, with some saying it was “in the running for worst game ever.” However, it actually wasn’t the one to feature the most missed questions. That record was set in 2005.
The episode with the most triple stumpers aired on February 23, 2005. Try as they might, all three contestants didn’t know the answers to 24 of the questions posed by host Alex Trebek.
Secrecy is key
The production of Jeopardy! is shrouded in secrecy. Winners aren’t allowed to tell their loved ones where they’re going, as episodes are filmed months in advance. This also means they’re not able to celebrate (or mope) if they win or lose.
According to Ken Jennings, the secrecy surrounding his continued appearance on the show during his historic run began raising the suspicion of family and co-workers. While it might have been difficult to continually lie to them, it was a small price to pay to win over $1 million.
Theme song or lullaby?
Jeopardy!‘s theme song is one of the best-known game show tracks. It was written by the show’s creator, Merv Griffin, and has a unique origin story: he used it as a lullaby to help his five-year-old son fall asleep. The tune was written in less than one minute, according to an interview Griffin gave to The New York Times.
It turned out to be a gold mine. Each time an episode airs, Griffin’s estate is paid royalties. Considering thousands have been produced, it’s estimated his earnings for the track have surpassed $100 million – that’s nothing to turn your back on!
Chances of appearing on Jeopardy! are pretty low
With Jeopardy! being one of the most popular game shows on primetime television, it’s no surprise viewers are chomping at the bit for a chance to compete on it. Unfortunately, it appears they may be getting their hopes up for no reason.
It’s reportedly incredibly difficult to make it through the process. According to one account, it’s estimated the show’s acceptance rate is just a mere 0.04 percent. We don’t know about you, but we’re not a fan of those odds, Johnny.
Commercial breaks are hectic
While viewers at home use commercial breaks to go to the bathroom or refill on snacks, Jeopardy! contestants are kept busy. Each of the three breaks between rounds features the show’s producers ensuring the contestants are ready for what’s to come.
According to Mental Floss, the first commercial break consists of the host and announcer Johnny Gilbert running through any required re-recordings. Contestants are given a pep talk, and any buzzer issues are addressed.
Before Alex Trebek’s death, the second break was when contestants were given the opportunity to take a photo with the host, as well as get a refresher on how the show’s Double Jeopardy! segment works. The third is the most important break, as it’s when the final wagers are planned out.
Thousands of questions
Given the number of squares on the clue board, it’s no surprise thousands of questions are written each season. However, the total is likely higher than you think – some 13,800 clues are thought up, including 230 for Final Jeopardy.
The massive feat is completed by a staff of eight researchers and eight writers, plus one head writer. We certainly don’t envy them!
Don’t hedge these bets
Each contestant has their own strategy when it comes to wagering. While it might appear they’re free to bet whatever they like, that’s actually not the case. In fact, there are five totals that are barred from being wagered on the show.
Contestants are not allowed to bet $69, due to the sexual insinuations that may arise from its use, while $666 is banned because of its satanic connotations in Christianity. Three – $14, $88, and $1,488 – aren’t allowed because of their associations with white supremacy.
Money down the drain
Some contestants are unlucky. They get answers wrong, miss out on the Daily Doubles or lose all their winnings over a risky Final Jeopardy! wager. While many fall into the red, there’s just one who holds the record for the lowest score in Jeopardy! history: Stephanie Hull.
Hull competed in March 2015, alongside Ken Jennings. She ended up with the low score of -$6,800, which she attributes to her incorrectly answering the $2,000 questions and the other two contestants getting the Daily Doubles.
Go, go, go!
Episodes of Jeopardy! are filmed on a pretty tight schedule. Five 30-minute shows are taped every Tuesday and Thursday back-to-back. This means winners don’t get much time to decompress before having to defend their title.
Former contestants have revealed they typically only got a 10-minute break between tapings, when they were allowed to change clothes and have their makeup re-applied. Alex Trebek spent the time in much the same way, changing into a different suit.