Have you ever had the feeling when watching Jeopardy! that you could go in there and whoop some Trebek-ian booty? Have you ever been "on-fire", answering each and every question before the leader could click their buzzer? Have you ever trounced each question, including the daily-double?

This happened to me the other day, and no, I wasn't watching student, celebrity, or teen Jeopardy!. I was, in fact, watching the Jeopardy! World Championship. I was hitting 9 for 10 in the double jeopardy round. Then, along came the final round...Category: United Nations. HOO BOY!! I was set. (For explanation, see my On becoming a Global Citizen write-up). Answer: This is the point which can be found at the center of the UN emblem. Don't even waste my time! "What is the North Pole, Alex" popped into my head seconds after the Final Jeopardy! music started.

After my Jeopardy! arm-chair streak, I actually sat back and thought about what chances I might stand on the show. To sum it up, I wouldn't be as great as my earlier run had suggested. Here's why:

A number of factors come into play when actually doing real Jeopardy!. First of all, there is the factor of nervousness. One cannot dominate the board if one cannot remember their own name out of stage fright. This is severely debilatating for some, and is amplified in the face of another contestant off to an early lead. I cannot say how much it would affect me, but I must attribute a small reduction in effectiveness due to it.

Moving on, we come to perhaps the most important part of Jeopardy!: the Buzzer Finger. If you don't have catlike reflexes combined with spasm-like repeated pushings, you'll never get an opportunity to speak. This is the true downfall of many a contestant, as those with a quick trigger finger dominate the competitions.

Finally, we come to the last factor. This happens to be the interview portion of the show with Alex. Of course, this isn't hugely important in terms of actually winning, but it really matters for style points.

So, the next time you think "Man, I'd be so much better than ALL these contestants combined", review the three main factors. Doesn't seem so easy now, does it?

Jeopardy! (the exclamation point is a part of the title) is a half hour long (commercials included) and airs an episode six days per week (occasionally less due to special programming changes). The game consists of three contestants being presented with an electronic board full of "answers" (or clues) to which they must present a "question." It might sound odd at first, so here's an example of how this works:

Contestant #1: I'll take Chia Pets for 200, Alex.
Alex Trebek: The answer is: This is the infamous jingle associated with Chia Pets.
Contestant #2 presses a little button before anyone else, signalling that he/she wants to provide the question.
Alex Trebek: Stacy.
Contestant #2: What is ch-ch-ch-chia?
Alex Trebek: Correct.

The contestants must respond in the form of a question. Had Contestant #2 in the above example responded simply "ch-ch-ch-chia" rather than "what is ch-ch-ch-chia," the response would have been incorrect. The answers available to choose from are organised into six columns according to category (in the above example, the category was Chia Pets) and five rows based on the amount that must be wagered.

Jeopardy! consists of three rounds: Jeopardy!; Double Jeopardy!; and Final Jeopardy!. In the Jeopardy! round, the amounts that can be wagered on a clue in any one category are $200, $400, $600, $800, and $1000. In Double Jeopardy!, these amounts are doubled and the clues are harder. The actual clues themselves are not seen until chosen, only the dollar amount they are worth. Both of these rounds have a time limit and will end when that limit is up, even if there are still unanswered clues on the board. Final Jeopardy! consists of one category with one clue. At the start of Final Jeopardy!, contestants are given the category but not the clue. At this point, they make a wager of their choosing, though the amount cannot be greater than the amount of money each one has already won. The show usually goes to commercials at this point and when it comes back presents the contestants with the clue. Instead of having to reply quicker than any other contestants to this clue, each one must write his/her answer down within 30 seconds. When the 30 seconds are up, anyone with the correct answer is awarded the money they wagered (and anyone with the wrong answer has the same amount taken away from their winnings).

Answering (or "questioning") a clue incorrectly will incur a penalty of whatever amount was wagered to the contestant's score. If Contestant #2 in the above example had answered incorrectly, his/her score would have had $200 deducted. In some cases, these leads to contestants occasionally having negative scores. If a contestant has a negative score at the end of Double Jeopardy!, he/she may not continue on to Final Jeopardy! Contestants don't have to pay anyone if they end with a negative score. In the first two rounds, daily doubles are possible. These are special clues which seem like any other clue until they are chosen, at which point some excited laser-like sound effects play and Alex Trebek lets everyone know what's up. A daily double is like Final Jeopardy! for whoever picks it: He/She can wager whatever amount, so long as it isn't higher than his/her current winnings and only that contestant can respond. If their earnings are below $500, however, they are allowed to wager up to $500 on the daily double.

Jeopardy!'s contestants are usually anyone who has made it through their pre-show questioning try-outs, though occasionally there are episodes where the contestants are only college students or celebrities playing for charity. In the case of the former exception, the clues are usually a bit easier but not that much. In the case of the latter, the clues are much easier as not only are the celebrities playing for charity but not every celebrity is all that knowledgable with regards to Jeopardy!'s usual type of content. Every once in a while there's an episode with teenagers, with clues that are pretty easy compared to the usual ones.

Saturday Night Live has taken to making a parody of celebrity Jeopardy! every now and then with extremely humourous results. The celebrities playing are always portrayed as unbelievable stupid, missing answers that are either outright obvious (e.g. "Name this continent: Asia.") or consist of movies each parodised celebrity was in. This is especially funny when a SNL cast member portrays Sean Connery, who always seems to read the categories incorrectly (e.g. "I'll take the rapists for 100, Alex." "That's therapists." / "I have to ask you about the penis mightier." "What?! No, no Mr. Connery. That's 'the pen is mighier.'" "Dussy it up however you like, Trebek, what I want to know is does it work?").

Unlike more recent quiz shows like Who Wants to be a Millionaire? whose questions are usually more along the lines of random trivia, Jeopardy!'s clues are pretty tough and geared more towards formally educated contestants. Chia Pets wouldn't be a category on a real game of Jeopardy!

According to legend, the original idea for "Jeopardy!" (originally to be named "What's the Question?") grew out of a conversation between Merv Griffin and his wife about the quiz show scandals of the late 1950s. Instead of being sneaky about it like "Twenty-One" and "The $64,000 Question," "Jeopardy!" would readily admit to giving the contestants the answers. They just wouldn't give them the questions.

The Art Fleming version premiered on NBC on March 30, 1964, at 11:30 A.M. Eastern time, and moved to the noon time slot on September 27, 1965, where it became a big hit among people eating lunch.

On this version, the dollar values ranged from $10 to $50 in the first round and $20 to $100 in Double Jeopardy!. The answers were printed on cards that were manually revealed by stagehands behind the game board. Contestants could ring in as soon as the host started reading the answer, and especially on the lower-valued clues, it became more of a contest of reflexes than anything else. (Since the cards were being pulled manually, the amount of time it took to reveal them would vary.) All three contestants kept the money they had earned during the show, although if they ended up with a negative amount, they didn't have to reach into their wallets. The winner returned the next day.

Eventually, NBC decided to screw with the time slot, moving "Jeopardy!" to 10:30 A.M. in January 1974, and then to 1:30 P.M. in July 1974. It last aired on January 3, 1975, although a syndicated version was also being produced throughout the 1974-75 season.

"Jeopardy!" returned to NBC on October 2, 1978, at 10:30 A.M., with some major changes to the rules. At the end of the first round, the contestant in third place was eliminated, and then the contestant in second place was eliminated at the end of Double Jeopardy!. The winner would then play a bonus round called Super Jeopardy!, which used a third complete game board on which they would have to correctly question five answers in a row (across, down, or diagonally) before missing three. The prize was $5,000.

NBC moved it to the familiar noon slot in January 1979, but it was being clobbered in the ratings by "The Young and the Restless," so it last aired on March 2, 1979.

Because of the sudden interest in trivia in the early 1980s, not to mention a certain "Weird Al" Yankovic song, Merv Griffin felt the time was right to bring back "Jeopardy!," this time in syndication, where it premiered September 17, 1984, with Alex Trebek, answers displayed on computer monitors, the return of a 3-person Double Jeopardy! and the original Final Jeopardy!, dollar values that were ten times those of the original show, and a new "only the champion keeps the cash" policy. At first, contestants were allowed to ring in immediately as on the old show, but that was soon changed to requiring the contestants to wait until Alex was finished.

Many local stations put the new syndicated version in daytime time slots or in the late night hours, where it performed poorly, but a few stations that put it on at 7:00 or 7:30 P.M. had success with it, especially when it was paired up with the syndicated version of Merv Griffin's other show, "Wheel of Fortune," which had premiered in 1983. More and more stations began to schedule the "Wheel"/"Jeopardy!" tandem at 7:00, culminating in ABC's flagship station, WABC in New York, deciding to switch the network news from 7:00 to 6:30 and put "Jeopardy!" on against the CBS and NBC evening newscasts. "Jeopardy!" won handily, eventually prompting WCBS and WNBC to also put on entertainment programming at 7:00.

A special tournament of champions with a prize of $250,000 called "Super Jeopardy!" aired Saturday nights on ABC in the summer of 1990, but the ratings were low. There were two format changes: in the first rounds, four contestants competed in each game, and the answers on the board were given point values instead of dollar values (200 to 1,000 in the first round and 500 to 2,500 in Double Jeopardy!). Many of the games consisted almost entirely of contestants trying to pick Potent Potables for $1,500 or whatever, and Alex reminding them they were playing for points, not dollars.

As of November 26, 2001, to counter the big-money prime time quiz shows such as "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," "Jeopardy!" doubled its dollar values, to $200 to $1,000 in the first round and $400 to $2,000 in Double Jeopardy!.

Two variants of "Jeopardy!" have run concurrently with the Alex Trebek version. "Jep!," hosted by Bob Bergen, a version with children as contestants, ran briefly in syndication in 1998. "Rock and Roll Jeopardy!," with host Jeff Probst, is a rock 'n' roll-themed version that has aired on the VH1 cable channel since 1998.

Reruns of the Alex Trebek version of "Jeopardy!" have been a mainstay on the Game Show Network schedule since it began transmitting, and "Rock and Roll Jeopardy!" and "Jep!" are also rerun. Most of the videotapes of the first Art Fleming version were destroyed, but GSN has shown the 2,000th episode special (in which Mel Brooks made a guest appearance as The 2,000-Year-Old Man), and there may be a few more in broadcast quality condition. The 1978-79 version probably still exists, but once you've seen the bizarre bonus round once, there's no good reason to see it again.

As a person who made it through the tryouts (but haven't yet gotten the Jeopardy! phone call), this is how the contestant search works as of November, 2001.

A few weeks before the tryouts

The local TV station that shows Jeopardy! advertises the contestant search, which is held at a local shopping mall.

Tryout Day One:

Show up at the mall and wait in a line. You are given a color-coded wristband. This gives you a coarse ordering for a second line (e.g, green before orange, orange before yellow, etc.) Once you get through this line (probably a couple of hours) you sit at a table with other prospective contestants. You are given a sheet of paper with 10 fill-in-the-blank questions on it. The sheets are color-coded, and there are lots of different colors, so no copying is possible. The questions are $1600 and $2000 level of difficulty. There is no official time limit, though you are using a space at the table that others are waiting for, so be reasonable. The crew does not tell you the passing score, but the consensus among those of us who passed was 7. In my contestant search, 1500 people showed at the mall. Of those, 130 passed. If you pass, you are requested to go to another location (ours was a local hotel) the next day. They tell you to wear what you would wear on the show. You should also think about amusing personal anecdotes that they could use in the interview segment of the show.

Tryout Day Two:

Show up at the hotel and mill about with the other prospective contestants. You are not in competition against each other, so everyone roots for everyone else. You are then led into a conference room, where a computer projector, some cameras, and some hardware that works with the signaling devices are set up, along with a lot of chairs, where everyone sits. The Contestant Coordinators come in: their job is to get everyone to relax. After a bit of introduction they play a message from Alex on the projector. He describes the test. You are given 50 questions in 50 different categories of $1600 to $2000 level of difficulty. For each question, the question number, category and question are shown on the projector. Then, the question number, category and question are read aloud. There is a pause of 15 seconds for you to write the answer on your answer sheet (you do not have to answer in the form of a question), and then they continue on to the next question. The qualifying score is 35 correct. The test only takes about 20 minutes.

After you take the test, some of the crew leave to grade the tests. The rest stay and help you fill out the contestant information form, which includes those interesting personal anecdotes. Then, the crew returns, and the names of the people who have qualified are read aloud. The rest are thanked and sent home. ("You don't even get a lousy copy of our home game!"). You have to wait 6 months to try again. Out of the 130 who made it this far, 37 qualified for the show. The crew claimed that 37/1500 was actually a high success ratio. Unfortunately, they always have more qualifiers than slots on the show. Only about 1/3 of the qualifiers actually get on the show. Qualification is good for a year. If you aren't called within a year, you must requalify.

Now comes the fun part. You have qualified, and now you get to play a little mock game. You stand in groups of three with the actual signaling buttons they use on the show. They tell you how the buttons work: You cannot answer until a little light comes on around the screen. If you signal too early, you are locked out for 1/2 second. Then after playing the game a bit, they do a little interview with you. After all the qualifiers do the game and interview, the session ends, and you go home and wait for the Jeopardy! phone call, when they call you and let you know when to be in L.A. for a taping. Which is what I am still doing.


Nope. Never got called. And I could have used the money since I was unemployed at the time. <SIGH>. I'll just have to try again the next time they come through.

But I'm not getting any younger.

The Jeopardy! Teen Tournament audition was held in the hotel lobby. It was my first audition, so I was nervous, but a girl standing next to me was very calm. We entered, went through the formalities, met the famous people, and then proceed to the written test. Fifty questions, fifty categories, eight seconds each. The results were given, and 85% of the pool was eliminated. By some weird twist of fate, I remained. And so did she. Then we had our interviews and proceeded to the mock game. The purpose of the mock game was to determine how telegenic we were, and she was one of my competitors. In the game, you can only ring in when lights on the side of the board illuminate (after Alex has read the question). She was blind. And she almost killed me with her buzzer. She knew exactly when that light would come on- it’s still very perplexing. After the audition, her entire family hugged her. She was loved for being herself.

"We may remark in passing that to be blind and beloved may, in this world where nothing is perfect, be among the most strangely exquisite forms of happiness. The supreme happiness in life is the assurance of being loved; of being loved for oneself, even in spite of oneself; and this assurance the blind man possesses. In his affliction, to be served is to be caressed. Does he lack anything? no. Possessing love he is not deprived of light. A love, moreover, that is wholly pure. There can be no blindness where there is this certainty.” –Victor Hugo

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