Encyclopedia  |   World Factbook  |   World Flags  |   Reference Tables  |   List of Lists     
   Academic Disciplines  |   Historical Timeline  |   Themed Timelines  |   Biographies  |   How-Tos     
Sponsor by The Tattoo Collection
Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index


Jeopardy! is a popular international television game show, originally devised by Merv Griffin, who also devised Wheel of Fortune. The show originated in the United States. Jeopardy! debuted on March 30, 1964. It is a game of trivia, during which three contestants compete by answering questions about topics that can range from history to literature to pop culture, with the twist that each response must be spoken in the form of a question to which the clue given is the answer. Its style of play is especially popular among audiences who like to see if they can answer the questions themselves, essentially allowing the viewer to feel as if he is part of the game.

The US show is currently hosted by Alex Trebek. The current version debuted on September 17, 1984, and perenially ranks second to Wheel in the Nielsen ratings of syndicated programs. Art Fleming hosted the original version, which ran from March 30, 1964, to January 3, 1975 on NBC. He also hosted a short-lived NBC revival, The All-New Jeopardy!, from October 2, 1978, to March 2, 1979.

Table of contents
1 Game play
2 Tournaments
3 Auditions
4 Miscellaneous trivia
5 Jeopardy! in popular culture
6 Merchandising
7 See also
8 External links

Game play

Each day, there are three contestants, one of whom is 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. Each category has five questions, which are worth certain amounts:
The returning champion starts the game by picking the category and the 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, 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...?" or "Who is....?" but 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). 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). The person with a correct response then has the right to choose the next "answer"; if no correct response is given, a buzzer 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:

(A note about the "answers" and responses: The "answer" is usually a phrase or statement describing the intended response, which is often a proper noun or familiar expression. 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 spots on the board conceal Daily Doubles. There is one such spot in the Jeopardy! round and two in the Double Jeopardy! round. Only the contestant who selects a Daily Double is allowed to respond to its clue. They can wager as much as the maximum amount of a clue on the board or as much as they have accumulated, whichever is greater. The minimum wager is $5. In the first "Jeopardy!" round, if a player has less than $50, $125, $500, or $1000 (depending on the era), they may risk up to that amount. In "Double Jeopardy!" if a player has less than $100, $250, $1000, or $2000, they may risk up to that amount. 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.

The third round is Final Jeopardy!. Contestants with zero or negative scores are not allowed to participate in Final Jeopardy! and automatically win the third-place (or possibly second-place) prize. The host first announces the category, and the contestants 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). Then 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 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, only the champion wins the amount of money accumulated on the show, and the other two contestants win consolation prizes. If more than one contestant ties for first place, they all win the money and come back. If there is a tie in a tournament, a tiebreaker question is played, but this has only ever happened on a few occasions.

The most it is theoretically possible to win on the show in one day is $566,400 with the clues at their present value. However, that would involve getting each question correct, picking the daily doubles last in each round, having all the Daily Doubles be under the lowest-valued spaces (which they almost never are), wagering everything for each Daily Double, and again wagering everything in Final Jeopardy!.

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. In the later years of this era, an undefeated champion would also be awarded an automobile. Since late 2003, there is no winnings limit, so a contestant keeps coming back as long as that contestant keeps winning. This led to the remarkable winning streak of Ken Jennings, who currently holds several records on the show, including most money won cumulatively and number of appearances.


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 money winners who were not undefeated. (Before 2001, the Teen champion was invited to the ToC.) 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:

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 contenstants 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 ($250,000 for the 2003 ToC, $50,000 for the 2003 College Championship, and $75,000 for the 2004 Teen Tournament) or his 2-day score, whichever is higher. The other participants receive an amount based on their finishing position, and even first-round losers receive an appearance fee.


The Jeopardy! staff regularly offer auditions for potential contestants. Tryouts take place regularly at the Los Angeles Jeopardy! studio, and occasionally in other locations. In order to try out, you must be at least 18 years of age, unless you are auditioning for one of the "special" programs, such as the Teen Tournament and Kids' Week. (For latest audition news, visit the Jeopardy! website, www.jeopardy.com, or call (310) 244-5367.)

Tryouts are given to many people at one time. There are two parts to the auditioning process. In the first 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. You have eight seconds to write down your 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. A score of 35 is considered passing; you will not know your exact score, only if you passed or not. Those who did not pass the test are dismissed, and those who did pass the test remain for the second phase of the audition.

Part two involves a mock Jeopardy! competition. 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 you possess the knowledge to compete on the show, as you have already passed the test, and are looking for TV-compatible qualities. Having a lot of energy and using a loud, confident voice are considered to be huge advantages. After playing a few clues, you will be interviewed by the contestant coordinators in front of the rest of the group with various questions, such as, "How would you spend the money?" After the end of the tryout, those who passed are placed into the "contestant pool" and eligible to be called to compete for the next year.

You must wait one year after taking the contestant exam before you can try out again.

Miscellaneous trivia

The , 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. 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 theme song, Griffin repeated it and added two timpani notes at the very 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.

Celebrity weeks are held every so often, featuring well-known people playing the game for charity.

There are also special "Kids Week"s 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.

In October 1999, a blind contestant named Eddie Timanus was a five-day undefeated champion, winning $69,700 and two cars. He finished second in the Tournament of Champions that season.

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.

The reason that only the winner gets to keep his money in the current version actually has an interesting story behind it. 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 (probably Merv) 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 interesting 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 those first few seasons, devised the tournament format himself. The reason he made it like that 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.

Jeopardy! in popular 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.

See also

External links