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Jeopardy! logo (1994-1996)

Jeopardy! is a popular international television game show, originally devised by Merv Griffin, who also created Wheel of Fortune. The show originated in the United States. Jeopardy! debuted on March 30 1964. It is a game of trivia, usually covering topics such as history, literature, and pop culture. During the game, the three competing contestants are given a clue in the form of an answer, to which they must give a response phrased as a question. Its style of play is especially popular among audiences who like to see if they can determine the questions themselves, essentially allowing the viewers to feel that they're part of the game.

Alex Trebek
Alex Trebek

Broadcast history

The US show is currently hosted by Alex Trebek and Johnny Gilbert is the announcer. The current version debuted on September 17 1984, and perennially ranks second to Wheel in the Nielsen ratings of syndicated programs. In 2005, it won its 10th Daytime Emmy for best game show, surprassing Pyramid.

Art Fleming hosted and Don Pardo was the announcer on the original version, which aired during the day from March 30 1964 to January 3 1975 on NBC. Fleming also hosted a short-lived NBC revival, The All-New Jeopardy!, from October 2 1978 to March 2 1979.

The show was the subject of great interest and increased ratings (often beating Wheel) in the second half of 2004, as contestant Ken Jennings, taking advantage of newly relaxed appearance rules, remained a champion for seventy-four appearances, winning over $US 2.5 million, and breaking almost every record in game show history.

Game play

Each day, there are three contestants, one of whom is usually the winner from the previous show.

The show consists of three rounds. The first one is simply called the Jeopardy! round. The game focuses on a game board (before 1979, it was a grid of pull cards; since 1984, it is a video wall) containing six columns and five rows of trivia "answers" or "clues". Each column is a topical category, and categories change on each show; they frequently contain puns or other wordplay. Recently, it's become popular for the show's producers to make the six categories related in some fashion, such as having them all be word plays on Shakespeare play titles (though only one category, if any, in this example would actually concern Shakespeare). Each category has five questions, which are worth various amounts:

  • 1963-1975: $10, $20, $30, $40, $50
  • 1978-1979: $25, $50, $75, $100, $125
  • 1984-2001: $100, $200, $300, $400, $500
  • 2001-present: $200, $400, $600, $800, $1000

The returning champion (the one at the leftmost podium) starts the game by picking a category and monetary value. The host reads off the "answer" (which also appears on the game board for that clue), and then any of the three contestants can ring in with a response. Before about 1985, contestants could ring in anytime after the clue was revealed; now, in order to give all three contestants a fair shot at the clue, they must wait until the host finishes reading the question before they can ring in, and pressing the signaling button too soon locks it for two-tenths of a second. For easy questions, ringing in at the right moment is important.

The responses must be phrased in the form of a question, usually "What is/was...?" or "Who is/was....?" For example, if the clue was, "This city is the capital of the United States", the correct response would be, "What is Washington, DC?" Some contestants have been more creative in responding, and an answer that is itself a question may be given as-is ("What, me worry?" for example). The phrasing rule in the game is especially strict in the second round: for example, if the clue was "The highest money-making movie of all time", and the contestant said only "Titanic" before his/her answering time expired, he/she would lose the amount of the question (even though his/her response was right, he/she did not phrase it in the form of a question). Contestants have done this throughout the Trebek era, and in some instances, corrected themselves by phrasing the response in the allotted time.

If the response is correct, the contestant wins the amount of money the question is worth; if it is wrong, he or she loses that amount (hence the "jeopardy") and the other two contestants regain the right to ring in. The current scores are shown on the front of each player's podium. (Negative scores can and do happen often; on the current set, negative scores are shown in red.)

The person with a correct response then has the right to choose the next "answer"; if no correct response is given, a series of three short beeps sounds, and the host reads the correct response. Then, the next choice is given to the last person who gave a correct response.

The second round, Double Jeopardy! (a pun on double jeopardy), works like the first round, with the following exceptions:

  • The categories are different.
  • The value of each clue is double what it was in the first round:
    • 1963-1975: $20, $40, $60, $80, $100
    • 1978-1979: $50, $100, $150, $200, $250
    • 1984-2001: $200, $400, $600, $800, $1000
    • 2001-now: $400, $800, $1200, $1600, $2000
  • The contestant with the lowest amount of money at the end of the first round picks first in the second round.
  • Also, in the 1978-1979 version only, only the two highest-scoring players at the end of Round 1 played Double Jeopardy!; the third-place player was eliminated before the start of the round.

In each game, three answers are designated Daily Doubles: one in the Jeopardy! round and two in the Double Jeopardy! round. Only the contestant who selects a Daily Double can respond to its clue. They can wager as much as the maximum amount of a clue on the board (currently $1000 in the Jeopardy! round and $2000 in the Double Jeopardy! round) or as much as they have accumulated, whichever is greater. The minimum wager is $5. A player may also indicate that they wish to make it a True Daily Double, meaning that they are wagering all the money that they have up to this point.

It is possible (and it sometimes happens) that a contestant will finish either with zero or in a negative score. If at the end of "Double Jeopardy!" the contestant(s) finishes in such a situation, then he/she is automatically eliminated from the game and is not allowed to play in the third round, Final Jeopardy!, and therefore will automatically receive the third-place (or possibly second-place) prize. There have been rare instances where there have been two contestants who have finished in either zero or negative scoring in one show after Double Jeopardy!, but never all three contestants. This happened most recently on the game aired on February 23, 2005 during the Ultimate Tournament of Champions, where Jeff Richmond was the only contestant to advance to Final Jeopardy!

In Final Jeopardy!, the host first announces the category, then the show goes into a commercial break during which the staff comes on stage and advises the contestants while barriers are placed between the players to discourage looking at one another's answers. The contestants then risk as little as $0 or as much money as they have accumulated, by writing it on a card (before 1979) or electronic drawing board (since 1984). After the final commercial break, the clue is revealed. Contestants have 30 seconds to write a response on a card/electronic drawing board, again phrased in the form of a question. The light pen is automatically cut off at the end of the 30 seconds.

The contestant who wins the most money is the day's champion and usually returns the next day. Before 1979, all contestants won their winnings in cash; since 1984, in an attempt to discourage "runaway consolations" (where second- and third-place players keep money as close to that of the first-place winner as possible), only the champion wins the amount of money accumulated on the show, and the other two contestants win consolation prizes. However, in 2002, it was changed so that the second place finisher gets $2,000 and the third place finisher gets $1,000. The change was made so that contestants who had to pay to travel to Los Angeles would at least win enough money to cover airfare and lodging costs. If more than one contestant ties for first place, they each win the money and come back, assuming that they each have at least $1. (One contestant in the Trebek era actually won the game with only $1; there have been few players who have held the co-champ title twice, though there has never been a three-way tie). If no contestant finishes with a positive total (i.e., at least $1), then nobody wins and three new contestants appear on the following show; in such cases the three players will participate in a backstage draw to determine player position. The three-way loss has happened three times since 1984.

If there is a tie in a tournament episode, a tiebreaker question is played, but this has only happened on a few occasions. In case of a three-way loss in a tournament, nobody advances, and an additional wild card is added in the tournament. (A wild card is one of the usually four non-winners with the highest scores in the opening round of a tournament to advance. There has been one triple loss in a tournament, and a fifth wild card was added.) Scores coming to Double Jeopardy! break ties for a wildcard position.

During the short-lived 1978-79 series, Final Jeopardy! was not played; instead, whoever was ahead at the end of Double Jeopardy! became the champion. That contestant then got to play a bonus round called Super Jeopardy! (no relation to the special summer 1990 tournament of all-time champions as aired on ABC). This round featured a new board of five categories with five clues in each, numbered 1-5 (and unlike the main game, not necessarily increasing in difficulty down the line). The object was for the contestant to provide any five correct responses in a straight line, Bingo style (horizontally, vertically, or diagonally). Giving an incorrect response earned the player a "strike," and blocked off that space on the board; three strikes ended the round. Super Jeopardy! was worth $5,000 to a first-day champion, with the jackpot increasing by $2,500 each day that champion successfully defended his/her title; with the five-day limit in place, that meant a potential total of $50,000 in just Super Jeopardy! earnings ($5,000 + $7,500 + $10,000 + $12,500 + $15,000). If a player struck out, he/she still received $100 for each correct response given.

In previous seasons, a contestant who won five days in a row would be retired undefeated, with a guaranteed spot in the next Tournament of Champions. From September 1996 until September 2001, an undefeated champion would also be awarded a choice of Chevrolet cars or trucks (Corvette, Tahoe, or two Camaros). From September 2001 until September 2003, the winner won a Jaguar X-Type. (Similarly, as part of the deal with Ford for the 2001-02 season, Ford also added a Volvo to the Teen Tournament prize package.) To mark the start of the current version's 20th season, in September 2003, the quiz show changed its rules so there is no winnings limit; a contestant keeps coming back as long as that contestant keeps winning (although automobiles were no longer awarded for five wins). This led to the remarkable winning streak of Ken Jennings, who currently holds most of the winning records on the show, including greatest number of appearances. Jennings was the winningest player of Jeopardy! and any game show ever played, until the Ultimate Tournament of Champions (see below) where he was displaced by Brad Rutter.

The theoretical maximum win for a single day of Jeopardy! is $566,400, but this requires choosing all of the Daily Doubles last and that they're all placed behind the lowest valued clues, which the odds are 3,288,600 to 1 against (assuming they are randomly placed [which they're not]), wagering everything for each Daily Double, and again wagering everything in Final Jeopardy! Depending on placement and order of the Daily Doubles, a so-called "perfect game" (every question correct, always maximum wager when called to do so) can range from $208,000 to $566,400, with a mean of $374,400.

The current one-day record is $75,000, set by Ken Jennings on July 23, 2004.


Various tournaments are held each season, including the Teen Tournament, featuring high-school students; the college Tournament, featuring college students; and the Tournament of Champions (ToC), featuring all 5-time undefeated champions, the college champion, and the highest scoring four-time winners. (Before 2001, the Teen champion was invited to the ToC, as was the Seniors Tournament champion when it was held.) Since the 5-day rule was lifted in 2003, spots in the next ToC will be alloted in order of wins, with total winnings serving as the tiebreaker. All of the tournaments follow this format created by Trebek himself:

The tournament lasts 2 weeks (10 shows), and 15 contestants are invited. In the first week, there are 5 games. The 5 winners advance along with the 4 next highest non-winning totals (wild cards). In the event of a tie for first place in a game, tiebreaker questions are asked until one person correctly answers; a tie for a wild card spot is resolved by the highest score entering Final Jeopardy!. (In the 2003 Tournament of Champions, 6 contestants scored $0 in the first round, causing this tiebreaker to be applied. If any of those contestants had saved $1, they would have advanced, but they wagered everything hoping for a wildcard spot.) In the second week, there are 3 semifinal games, and those three winners play a 2-day final, with the highest combined score being the winner. The winner receives a guaranteed amount of money for their appearances. While this amount has changed over the history of the show, the current amounts are $250,000 for the Tournament of Champions, $100,000 for the College Championship, and $75,000 for the Teen Tournament. The other participants receive an amount based on their finishing position.

For many years in the Trebek era, the show also had a Seniors Tournament, where contestants 50 or over played, but due to concerns about their health and abilities, the Seniors Tournament is no longer played.

"Ultimate Tournament of Champions"

Main Article: Jeopardy! Ultimate Tournament of Champions

Jeopardy! announced a new tournament on December 28, 2004, called the Ultimate Tournament of Champions, which began airing February 9, 2005. This tournament pitted 144 former Jeopardy! champions against each other, with two winners moving on to face Ken Jennings in a 3-game final for a chance at $2,000,000. The final winner was Brad Rutter, with Jennings taking second place. As a result, Rutter is the all-time highest winner of any game show with $3,155,102, with Jennings a close second with $3,022,700.

Celebrity Jeopardy!

Every so often (usually once a year), "celebrity weeks" are held in which the contestants are celebrities. Each celebrity chooses a charity to sponsor, and that charity is the recipient of the particular celebrity's winnings. Typically, the charity is guaranteed a certain amount (at one time, $5,000 for a loss; $10,000 for a win) unless the celebrity earns more than that amount. Also, the rules are usually relaxed so that, for example, celebrities are not necessarily penalized for forgetting to respond in the form of a question.

Celebrity Jeopardy! has been spoofed numerous times on Saturday Night Live, with Will Ferrell appearing as Trebek, and Darrell Hammond usually playing Trebek's nemesis, Sean Connery. The skits poke fun at the ineptitude of the starring celebrities at answering the sorts of questions which appear on Jeopardy!, along with their ineptitude at answering questions in general.


The Jeopardy! staff regularly offers auditions for potential contestants. Tryouts take place regularly at the Los Angeles Jeopardy! studio, and occasionally in other locations. In order to try out, one must be at least 18 years of age, unless one is auditioning for one of the "special" programs, such as the Teen Tournament or Kids' Week. (The latest audition news is available at the Jeopardy! website (, or on the telephone number +1 (310) 244-5367.)

Tryouts are given to many people at one time. Before one arrives, one is asked to bring along a filled-out form stating one's name and providing five anecdotes that one could potentially use during the on-air interviews.

There are three parts to the auditioning process itself. The first is a pep talk of sorts from the contestant coordinator. The staff tries to make the audition process entertaining. In the second section, fifty Jeopardy!-style clues in fifty different categories are displayed on a big screen at the front of the room and read aloud by Johnny Gilbert, the show's announcer. A potential contestant has eight seconds to write down his or her response (no need to phrase in the form of a question here) before the next clue is read.

At the end of the fifty questions, the contestant coordinators take the completed answer sheets and grade them. Though some sources state that a score of 35 is passing, the contestant coordinators refuse to confirm or deny that and the official passing score is kept a secret. Some people who have auditioned speculate that the passing score varies depending on how many contestants are needed for the show. Exact scores are not disclosed, only pass/fail results. Those who did not pass the test are dismissed, and those who did pass the test remain for the third phase of the audition.

At this point the people who passed the written test are given paperwork to fill out, which details eligibility and availability. Then the third part of the audition, a mock Jeopardy! competition, begins. A game board is presented, and potential contestants are placed in groups of three to play the game. The emphasis is not on scoring points, or even having correct answers; the contestant coordinators know that they possess the knowledge to compete on the show, as they have already passed the test, and are looking for on-the-air-compatible qualities. Having a lot of energy and using a loud, confident voice are considered to be huge advantages.

After playing a few clues, the contestant coordinators give each potential contestant a few minutes to talk about themselves. The coordinators request that they finish by telling what they would do with any money they won on Jeopardy!

After the end of the tryout, those who passed the test and participated in the mock Jeopardy game are placed into the "contestant pool" and are eligible to be called to compete for the next year. Those in the contestant pool may be called at any time in that year, although the show has more potential contestants than it needs and many people are not called at all.

The mandatory waiting period after taking the contestant exam is one year, after which one may try out again.

Miscellaneous trivia

The Jeopardy! theme song, which was composed by Merv Griffin, served as the "think music" of the Final Jeopardy! countdown, and is also the melody for the current theme. In the United States, it has insinuated itself into everyday communication; the song applies to any situation in which someone is waiting for another to answer a question or make a decision. For example, the theme is often heard at baseball stadiums when the manager goes to the pitcher's mound to discuss a replacement.

A few years after composing the song, Griffin added two timpani notes at the end so that it would meet the thirty-second minimum length required to secure a copyright on the song.

The main theme song to the original 1960s version is called Take Ten and was composed by Merv Griffin's wife, Julann.

There are also special "Kids Weeks" during which contestants of 10, 11, and 12 years old compete, with age-appropriate questions.

There are versions of Jeopardy! in many languages and countries around the world, as well as board games and computer games.

Brian Weikle at one point held the record for the highest single day record on Jeopardy!; on April 13, 2004, he won $52,000. This record would be tied three times by Ken Jennings; Jennings would eventually break it on July 23, 2004, with a total of $75,000.

On April Fool's Day 1997, Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune pulled a switch - Trebek hosted Wheel, and Pat Sajak hosted Jeopardy!; both shows also switched announcers. (Trebek's Wheel contestants were Sajak and Vanna White, both of whom played for charity; the Jeopardy! contestants were those regularly scheduled.)

In October 1999, a blind contestant named Eddie Timanus was a five-day undefeated champion, winning $69,700 and two cars. He was a Semi-Finalist in the Tournament of Champions that season. The current practice of having contestants introduced at their podium, instead of as they walked in, was introduced during his episodes.

When a player answers every question in a particular category correctly, it is said that he "ran the category". The audience usually applauds when that occurs.

Only the winner gets to keep his or her money in the current version, and this is reportedly due to a compromise. The second pilot episode for the new version had already been taped, with dollar values from $50-$250 in the first round, and $100-$500 in the second, with everyone keeping their money at the end, as had been done for years prior. Afterward, somebody suggested that the values should be double that even, going from $100-$500 in the first round and $200-$1000 in the second. The producer said that that would be way too much for them to afford; even when taking into account the rate of inflation, that would be triple what the values had been on the original series. Merv wanted it done, though. Someone else piped in and suggested that only the winner should keep his winnings. It wasn't a popular idea at first, but was eventually accepted as a good compromise.

Another story involves tournaments on Jeopardy!: The first one was held in 1985, after the first season, because the producers wanted to have a special ratings-grabber for sweeps. Alex Trebek, who was also the executive producer during the first few seasons, devised the tournament format himself. The reason he made it like it was is because that first season, there were exactly fifteen five-time champions. Once they decided to make the ToC an annual event, for each tournament, they invited all the five-time champs, and then the four-time champs in order of amount won to make exactly fifteen participants. There were never again more than fifteen five-timers, but it can be assumed that if there were, they would take the top fifteen in order of amount won. The ToC format was later applied to the Teen, College, and Seniors tournaments. Tournaments continue to work well as ratings-grabbers during sweeps weeks.

Since 2001, Jeopardy has featured a "Clue Crew" reading selected clues. These are four young adults who travel around the world and tape clues from exotic locations and in front of historic places. The Crew Clue members have been Cheryl Farrell (2001-present), Sofia Lidskog (2001-2004), Jimmy McGuire (2001-present), and Sarah Whitcomb (2001-present).

International adaptations

There are (or have been) versions of Jeopardy! outside of the United States, including a UK version hosted by Paul Ross (with Derek Hobson, Chris Donat and Steve Jones before him), an Australian version with Sale of the Century legend Tony Barber, versions from Sweden with Magnus Härenstam, Germany, Russia, from 1994, called Svoya Igra, with Pyotr Kuleshov, plus a version from Denmark with Søren Kaster (from 1995), Lasse Rimmer (from 2000), to Lars Daneskov (from 2003), a Canadian version which airs on CTV, and a version in Israel with Ronny Yovel. Israel's version is the most recent version of the A&Q show around the globe, starting in 2002.

Episode Status

GSN has aired one episode from the 1964-75 Fleming version, the 2000th episode. A clip from an earlier 1960s episode aired in 2004 during an ABC News Nightline special on Jeopardy! on the night Ken Jennings lost. In addition, an ordinary 1974 episode and the 1975 finale exist among private collectors. It is believed that is all that is left of the run, as the tapes were destroyed by NBC. The status of the 1978 version is unknown, although GSN aired this version's last episode on December 31, 1999, as part of a marathon of game show finales. The first episode also exists in collections. The Trebek version is completely intact - GSN has rerun approximately 8 seasons to date, although they continuously aired the 1997-98 season from 2001 until June 13, 2005, when GSN began rerunning episodes from the 2001-02 season.


  • Executive Producer: Harry Friedman
  • Senior Producers: Lisa Finneran, Rocky Schmidt, Gary Johnson
  • Directed By: Kevin McCarthy
  • Writers: Gary Johnson, Kathy Easterling, Mark Gaberman, Debbie Griffin, Andrew Price, Jim Rhine, Michele Loud, Steve Tamerius, Billy Wisse

Jeopardy! in popular culture

Main article: Jeopardy! in culture

The show has been portrayed or parodied on many television shows, movies, and literature over the years, usually with one of the characters appearing as a contestant.


The Jeopardy! brand has been used on products in several other formats.

Missing image
Ken Jennings

See also

External links


fr:Jeopardy ! sv:Jeopardy!


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