Here’s the deal: You’ve been watching America’s Favorite Quiz Show™ for literally decades, and are sure that you could play better than half the contestants on any given week’s shows, but you’ve never bothered to actually pursue the fame! Glory! Money! that awaits a Jeopardy! contestant.
You may be aware that you apply online somehow? That there’s a test involved? Maybe?
Well, you’ve got questions, so here are some answers about how to (maybe) get on Jeopardy!, from someone who has been there (me, obviously).
How Hard is it to Get on Jeopardy!?
Pretty hard! And it’s a nearly impossible thing to quantify!
SO many people try out for Jeopardy!. In 2018, 80,000 wannabe players took the first steps to getting on the show, and the show tapes 230 episodes (including special events like the Tournament of Champions) every year; that works out to about 600 people making it onto the show in any season.
These are not necessarily the smartest people, either (though they are pretty gosh-darned clever).
*Qualifying* is potentially easy for a seasoned viewer or trivia aficionado, but there are roadblocks and cosmic forces at work (kinda) that won’t make the journey easy, or straightforward.
What’s This About a Jeopardy! Test?
The current first step to getting your shot on the Sony stage is to complete the online test.
Back in MY day (not that long ago; I was on the show in 2019), the online test was only offered a few days a year, but now, you can take it whenever you want.
Please note that you can only take the ‘Anytime’ test once a year. They also have ‘scheduled’ tests, which you can also only take once a year. So you have, max, two chances to take an online Jeopardy! test.
What About Before the Internet, Then?
Back in Ye Olden Times, folks could show up in Los Angeles on certain days and do a test in person (that’s how an acquaintance of mine made it on the show in 2004). The show also had ‘Contestant Searches’ in various cities across North America, where you could show up and test your wits among thousands of other wannabe tv quizzers. Here’s a fun account of one such event in Scranton in 1988. Note that only 19 out of 200 people passed their test that day!
OK, So the Test is Hard. How Do You Ace it?
I highly recommend taking the practice tests offered first, to get a feel for the rhythm of the thing; it goes REALLY quickly (or really slowly, if you know an answer right away).
Other than that, it’s hard to recommend a studying method because the range of questions is as vast as the categories on Jeopardy! can be, including everything from the Bill of Rights to the Buffalo Bills to billy goats.
So practice technique, and hope ‘your’ topics come up.
What’s a ‘Passing Mark’ on the Jeopardy! Test, Though?
Listen, my bosses here wanted me to dig deep and find out the REAL pass score, which is, and has been for many, many years, rumoured to be 35 correct out of 50.
But digging deep revealed no further information! Reddit speculates regularly, too! Sorry!
So, a passing score is 35! Or maybe not.
You don’t? *sad trombone noise*
Jeopardy! does not tell you how you did. And because the test passes by so fast, most people would not be able to keep track of their scores at home without an even more excellent memory than most contestants possess.
Yikes. OK, So I Took the Online Test and I Have a Good Feeling That I Did VERY Well. Do I Get to Audition Now?
If only it were that simple! But no, you do not.
People who ‘pass’ the test are put into a vast pool of other smart people. From there, it’s kind of a lottery system to figure out who, of the thousands of test-takers, moves onto the next step.
I am pretty sure that I passed the online test a half-dozen times, and that I didn’t at least once.
I made it to the next step twice.
Next up, the Audition.
So! If you have done well on the test, and the stars aligned, you may get an email invitation to come to an audition. These are not always in a convenient place.
I don’t mean, like, up a mountain or anything, but when you write the online test, you will be asked to pick a couple of locations from a list of cities where you would be able to meet with some Jeopardy! producers, and a whole lot of other smarties who are trying to get on the show. These auditions are generally held in a glamorous location like a characterless hotel conference room. Swanky!
One of my auditions was in Toronto, in 2013. Luckily, I had a friend there who let me stay over at her place. I did not make it onto the show.
The second one was in New York in April 2016. I live in Canada. I made a tiny (like two-day, extremely on-the-cheap) vacation out of it. I got the call to be on the show in January 2019. This is unusual because I had been told I would be in the contestant pool for 18 months, not 20!
Wait, Do They Not Pay For You to Travel?
Nope! It’s on your dime. Getting on Jeopardy! can get expensive!
Please note: During COVID-y times, some of this information wasn’t applicable. Auditions were done on Zoom, for example, and they made a greater effort to recruit contestants who lived in Southern California and could get to the studio in Culver City easily/without travel restrictions interfering.
So, Do I Have to ‘Win’ at an In-Person Audition?
Well, you have to pass another test! Yay! This to prove that you didn’t get a computer to take the online test for you, and that your handwriting is somewhat legible, I guess?
The next bit is a mock game, which is on camera (a small one) and only lasts a few minutes. This is where you get to face the buzzer (briefly!) for the first time, and get used to the timing of question end vs. time to hit that button.
I’m an awkward human, but, well, let’s face it, so are a lot of other contestants. You can’t really ‘win’ here, so just play confidently, be polite, speak clearly, and don’t swear. Really, be yourself (unless you are a terrible person with a terrible attitude, maybe?); you’re competing mostly for show, to demonstrate that you would not be terrible for an audience to watch from home. (Getting a correct answer or three doesn’t hurt, obviously.)
Oh, and maybe have good stories to tell.
Stories? Oh No!
Oh yes! Part of the audition is chatting to the lovely audience coordinators and a producer or two! Before you go to the audition, you’ll be asked to prep a couple of anecdotes or fun facts about yourself as talking points, and, after your mini-game (which is about three categories worth of clues before you switch out with another group of three wannabe contestants), you’ll have a wee conversation with the Important Jeopardy! People.
However! At neither of my auditions was I asked about my stories; my previous job was pretty unusual for someone auditioning, so we talked about movies, mostly.
Fantastic! I’m Great at Chit-Chat. If I Do Well at This, I Get on the Show, Yes?
Again, it’s a maybe. So frustrating, right? As I mentioned above, I auditioned twice, and did not feel stronger about one in-person meet-and-greet over the other in any way.
After the audition, you’re told that you will now be thrown in another pool (not that kind) and that you’ll be in it for 18 months. As I mentioned above, I got my call to be on the show after 20 months, so this is maybe not a hard and fast rule.
One man at my audition in Toronto was on his fifth tryout. He had travelled across the country from Alberta to be there. I am not sure if he made it onto the show that time either. (Sorry, dude, I forgot your name and didn’t follow up!)
If you’re awesome at all these steps, and the odds are in your favour, then hooray! You may make it on Jeopardy!.
A nice producer will call you. You may be at work and too stunned to speak/immediately worried about screwing up a publication deadline because of the date they’ve given you (or was that just me?). You will have a month to fret, fill out quite a bit of legal paperwork, submit more potential chit-chatty stories, make travel arrangements, and hope you can remember the periodic table and the names of all the U.S. vice-presidents.
Then what? Well, check out some of our other intel, like What They Really Tell You Before You Go On Jeopardy!, How to Unseat a Jeopardy! Champion, Weird and Wild Jeopardy! Scores, Understanding the Coryat Score, or Five Insider Behind-the-Scenes Facts About Jeopardy! Taping.
Good luck! You’re gonna need it!