Unless you are a Ken Jennings, a Brad Rutter, or a similarly champion-y winner, iconic TV game show Jeopardy! might not be the route to riches that you think it is. You may be shocked to find out that you probably won’t make much money at all; in fact, for many contestants, the net gain (at least financially) is less than $0! Sometimes much less!
But that doesn’t stop tens of thousands of people from trying out online to get their shot on the juggernaut of a TV game show. And it can be worth it!
Now that you know what goes into preparing for your appearance on Jeopardy! and their production schedule, here’s the lowdown on some of the financial details you may not have thought of when it comes to Jeopardy!:
Do Jeopardy! Contestants Get Paid?
If you consider winning cash prizes as ‘getting paid,’ then yes, they are! But they are not paid a per-episode fee or salary, like the employees of the show are.
How Much Do Jeopardy! Winners Take Home?
That can vary hugely and is very dependent on how the game has gone generally; champions can win as little as $1 in a game (more on this below), but the single-day top scorer (James Holzhauer, obviously) won a record $131,127 on April 17, 2019.
They also get some Jeopardy! swag (in my case, a tote bag and hat) as consolation prizes.
How Does Jeopardy! Pay Its Winners?
By check! But not right away—the (first, if not long-time champion) payment usually arrives a couple of months after a contestant’s air date. My episode was recorded in February and aired in April; my check didn’t arrive until July.
Does Jeopardy! Pay For Travel?
In general, Jeopardy! does not pay for travel for contestants to go to Culver City to be on the show. They DO, however, pay for it for returning champions who have to come back the following week; the show tapes only two days a week, five shows per day, so if you win the last show on the second day, you get five days to go home and see family/pets/coworkers before heading back to the studio. *
Trying to be on Jeopardy! can get expensive, though! In-person try-outs are held all over North America, but not necessarily near all the folks who have passed the Jeopardy! Online Test; they have never held auditions where I live, one of Alex Trebek’s hometowns, for example.
I auditioned twice, once in Toronto (where I could stay with a friend), and once in New York City (where I could not). Those costs add up and Jeopardy! does not reimburse you.
Note: During COVID times, auditions are being held by video conference, to minimize travel, which means fewer expenses.
*“But they’ve just won so much money and can pay for their own travel!” See above about how long it takes to get prize checks, and keep reading.
Does Jeopardy! Pay For Hotel Costs?
Again, the show will pay for the returning champ’s travel expenses, including accommodation, but everyone else is on their own to cover hotel costs. Sony Television can assist with getting their corporate discount at a couple of different hotels near the studio, but the rooms are still not cheap (‘tis L.A., after all). Heck, even parking was $25+ a day at the hotel where I stayed.
Having said that, it’s not a bad plan to stay at one of these hotels, if you can afford it, because a shuttle picks up contestants and takes them straight to the studio, making transportation less of a hassle on what might be a very anxious morning!
Do 2nd and 3rd Place On Jeopardy! Keep Their Money?
Not exactly. They’re compensated with a flat “appearance fee.” Keep reading to find out more about this.
How Much Do 2nd and 3rd Place Win On Jeopardy!?
Second place wins $2000 and third place gets $1000, regardless of their scores at the end of the game.. Not bad for a half-hour’s work, but unbelievably frustrating if you’ve finished in second place with $54,999, like poor Adam Levin did against the formidable James Holzhauer (who beat him by a mere $18).
What Happens if Someone Wins Jeopardy! With a Score Smaller Than $2000?
They come back the next day, because they’ve won!
It’s not super common for a champion to win with less money than a 2nd place finisher receives, but it happens, usually when scores going into Final Jeopardy! are close and people need to bet a lot to get a win (assuming they get the question correct); if no one gets the Final clue right, then total scores end up very low. (And we’re not even touching on Coryat scores… read more on those here.)
So the winner gets that wee amount but will win more the next day, whether they win again, or come in third. (It’s not a super-enviable position, as the per-hour ‘wage’ goes way down!)
Do Jeopardy! Winners Pay Taxes?
They do! Even if, like me, you live in Canada, the State of California and the American Government want your money. Some pundits estimate that James Holzhauer paid more than $1 million in taxes for winnings during his original run on the show.
U.S. contestants declare their winnings as income on their taxes at the end of the year (the show issues you a 1099-MISC). And no, you can’t deduct your travel expenses for appearing on the show.
For me and fellow foreigners, the show automatically deducted the taxes; it meant that my $1000 in Jeopardy! winnings arrived in the form of a $700 check. With all the travel and hotel expenses, I made a net loss on Jeopardy! for sure. At least I got a hat?
So, Jeopardy! is PROBABLY not the get-rich-by-quizzing guarantee you think it is, but contestants will each win at least $1001 (before taxes). Though there are ways to make it quite profitable (we have an analysis of that here). Hey, it’s still better than even the top prize on HQ Trivia! And, for most folks who appear on Jeopardy!, the experience is totally worth the expense, even if they miss out on the potentially giant cash winnings; getting on the show is on most North American trivia aficionados bucket lists, and, heck, given how difficult it is to even get on that sound stage? Game show bragging rights, even for third-place ‘losers,’ are priceless.
Read this and not sure you’re ready for prime time yet? You can still enjoy playing Jeopardy! From the comfort of your own home, be it in board game form or at the touch of your fingertips thanks to mobile apps and video games. And don’t forget that, even if you don’t think it’s worth taking the chance to appear on Jeopardy!, you can still win cash prizes at your local trivia night (and hey, watching Jeopardy! Can be a great way to prep for that!).