How to Become a Contestant on Jeopardy: Tips on the Talent Search Test

I’ll take “How does one get on Jeopardy” for five-hundred, Alex. If you’re Jeopardy fan and would like to become a contestant on the show but haven’t quite figured out how do so, rest assured the application process is actually sort of simple. But making the cut and actually getting on Jeopardy, that’s another story; if you want to get on Jeopardy you will have get past a series of obstacles, some of which force you to rely on luck, others, on knowledge, and others still on where you happen to fit in, demographically. Jeopardy is one of the most successful and popular game shows of all time, and many people want to be the next big bucks contender. Here’s the way it breaks down.

To get on Jeopardy, you need to apply to get into a contestant search, the day when they test people’s knowledge to see if they’re up to snuff. These events are held in different spots around the country and recently were also held online. Upcoming contestant search dates and times and places are usually announced on Jeopardy, the actual show, and can also be found on the Jeopardy website:

Applying for a Jeopardy contestant search only requires you to submit your name, address, phone number, gender, that kind of information; you don’t need to enter any questions. Your gender is required, I think – just an opinion- because Jeopardy really wants to be a show that caters to men and women, and they tend to be male-heavy with contestants, so they want to make sure some ladies to get in. This may seem a little prejudicial, but when you watch the show and see how many more men than women – currently and historically – get on, it hardly seems like any cause for ruckus. When I tried out for the show once, the male-female ratio in the room was pretty even. The second time, it was much more skewed to women – maybe 75% of the people there were female. But when ten of us were called back, after the test, only three were female – so a lot of good it did the show. Anyhow, you fill out that information to register to take the test in the available locale of your choice and then wait to hear back from Jeopardy.

If you hear back from Jeopardy, and that’s an “if” you will be given a registration email which, along with asking for you to respond and say you’re coming also gives you the basic information for the test day – the where, what, when, etc. You’re also given a sheet to fill out biographical information on yourself, you know, the fun facts and anecdotes always revealed about Jeopardy contestants on the show. I’m not sure if having a amazingly interesting anecdote is beneficial or not, really, anything can sort of be interesting if you work with it. In any case, you keep your letter with you and bring the fact sheet to your talent search test.

The talent search test is sort of fun. You go into a big room (for instance, a ballroom at a hotel) and you get to meet people connected to the show. I met one of the Jeopardy “Clue Crew” one time and the other time, met a few producers. You turn in your registration letter. (One odd thing – the letter is really your admissions ticket, but one time when I tried out, a guy just sort of came in with his wife and they let him take the test, even though he didn’t have a letter. Hm? Guess maybe they were short some contestants that day.

After you get seated and settled in, you’re given instructions by whomever’s moderating for Jeopardy and by a Jeopardy video. These instructions include hints about how Jeopardy questions are phrased, common question types (stuff fans of the show probably already know, but the reminder is helpful.) Then you do quick run through with a few practice questions run by the moderators. These appear on a big video board or some other projector.

After you’re all warmed up, you’re given a sheet with blanks in it and they play the Jeopardy test on the screen. It’s cool, sort of like playing the game. You’re given Jeopardy style questions, just like on the show, and you have a time limit for each, just like on the show. You have to think quick. The whole thing takes maybe, I don’t know, twenty minutes? It’s fast. After time’s up and you turn in your test, there’s some down time while the tests are scored by the Jeopardy moderators. They’re fast too! And soon the people who passed the test are asked to stay while everyone else leaves. Thanks for playing. (They do get to keep the cool Jeopardy pens they use…) The Jeopardy people do not ever tell you how many questions you need to get right in order to get into the next trial round; they just say “it’s a lot.” Percentage wise, the number of people who pass probably varies search to search. As one example, when I took the test once, there were seventy people total and only ten made it the second stage of the journey. But, again, I’m sure it varies.

If you get enough of your test questions right, and you’re asked to stay in the room, you get your photo taken for their casting file. (You’re asked in your registration letter to dress as you would if you made the show.) If you’re a Jeopardy fan, you know that looks run the gamut, so don’t be all worried about how you look. Then, it gets really fun as they give out hand buzzers, just like on the show, and pit people against each other for a brief Jeopardy showdown. This gives the moderators a chance to tell you some rules of the Jeopardy road- like be upbeat, wait for the row of tiny lights to all go off before you click in, and speak loudly.

After everyone’s done with their questions, you get more information. This is where the demographics and luck come back into play. We were told we all we in the contestant pool for a year. I think you have to really, really mess up or be a psycho in order to pass the test but not be in the pool. We were told, then, that being in the pool meant maybe – maybe – we would get on the show. We were told not to be impatient, because they needed contestants throughout the year – so it might be a while until we heard (if we were destined to hear.) They also told us they like diversity – not just in gender, but in geography, age, and occupation. We were also told getting called to L.A. even didn’t mean you’d really get on. And we also learned some interesting insider stuff, like that Jeopardy shoots three episodes a day- so if you get there, it’s possible to go in with nothing, play three rounds and come out loaded. Then we were sent on our way, officially potential Jeopardy contestants.

How did work for me? Well, the year I was in the pool I watched a contestant from my group (with the same name as me) and a contestant from my exact hometown (small-ish hometown) both get on. I’m not sure why they made it and I didn’t- maybe because one was a scientist (novel profession) and one was youngish and not from the already vastly represented white demo. In any case, I figured chances of me also getting in after that were slim to none. And I could live with that. There’s always another test, and it really was just a lot of fun to try out and make it to the “practice” round. Plus, both those other people ended up losing big-time which gave me a slight feeling of vindication. Sure I wish I’d been the one on Jeopardy, but in the case of getting stomped on Jeopardy – better them than me.

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