Jeopardy! audition process
Throughout the run of the quiz show Jeopardy!, the production staff has regularly offered auditions for potential contestants. Tryouts take place in the Los Angeles area, and occasionally in other locations throughout the United States, in Canada, and at U.S. military installations abroad. The Jeopardy! audition process differs from that of many other game shows in that it involves passing a difficult test of knowledge on a diversity of subjects, approximating the breadth of material encountered by contestants on the show. Since 2006, an online screener test is conducted about once a year.
Current eligibility requirements
As with all television game shows, there are rules in place for who is allowed to appear as a contestant on Jeopardy! Competitors in the regular episodes must be 18 years of age or older; contestants in the College Championship must be full-time undergraduates without any previous bachelor's degree; competitors in the Teen Tournament must be between the ages of 13 and 17 years; and contestants in the Kids Week must be between the ages of 10 and 12 years.
Those ineligible to compete on Jeopardy! include employees of Sony Pictures Entertainment and its subsidiaries (including the show's production company, Sony Pictures Television), distributor CBS Television Distribution, and television stations that broadcast Jeopardy! and/or its sister show, Wheel of Fortune, as well as family members, relatives, and acquaintances of such employees. Also excluded are individuals who have appeared as contestants on a different nationally broadcast game show of any format (including dating shows, relationship shows, and reality shows) within the past year, on three such shows within the past ten years, or on any episode of Jeopardy! itself (including Super Jeopardy!) produced since Alex Trebek became the host in 1984.
In the original version, prospective contestants could call the Jeopardy! office in New York to make a preliminary determination of eligibility and arrange an appointment to audition. Approximately 10 to 30 individuals would audition at the Jeopardy! office at once, the process lasting about an hour and a half, and usually involving a written test, a briefing, and a mock game. Contestants invited to play on the show were generally invited within six weeks of auditioning.
When the current version of Jeopardy! premiered in 1984, prospective contestants were given a 50-question written test, with 35 being a passing score. The original contestant tests were written by head writer Jules Minton, and were later written by the show's writers. Initially, 2 new contestant tests were compiled each year, and were given alternately; later, the tests were refreshed every six months to accommodate frequent repeat test takers. The makeup of the test was 15 academic questions, 10 lifestyle, 15 pop culture and 10 wordplay. Beginning in 1987, the number of pop culture questions was reduced to 5 and wordplay to 2. Those who passed the test at an audition were invited to play a mock game to evaluate their stage presence and colorfulness. Initially, all auditions took place in Southern California, and anyone could call to make an appointment to take the test; travelling contestant searches did not begin until after the second season of the show. Local affiliates airing the show sponsored regional contestant searches, paying for the travel expenses and accommodations of the contestant coordinators. Invitations to audition were awarded by postcard drawings and other types of contests.
A 10-question pre-test was first devised when contestant coordinators conducted a two-week East Coast search at Merv Griffin's Resorts Atlantic City hotel and casino. In order to test as many people as possible, hopefuls were invited to take the screener pre-test as often as once per day, and those with a passing score of 7 were invited to return to take the 50-question full test. The 2-week Atlantic City auditions were held annually in February while the show was owned by Griffin, and the 10-question screener is still in use at traveling open auditions.
Once each year, a series of screenings for potential contestants are conducted on the Internet through the official Jeopardy! web site.
Online tests are typically conducted over three days, which each day being targeted at a different time zone (Eastern, Mountain and Pacific). Online test dates for previous years include:
- 2006: March 28-30
- 2007: January 23–25
- 2009: January 27-29
- 2010: January 26-28
- 2011: February 8-10; March 15 (college); March 1 (teen)
- 2012: January 17-19; February 7 (college); end of January (teen)
- 2013: January 8-10; March 6 (college)
The online test allows 15 seconds to answer each question. Whatever has been typed into the answer bar at the end of 15 seconds is entered as the answer. It is not required to answer in the form of a question, as would be the case on the show. Upon completion of the online test, no score is displayed.
A random selection of passers (generally understood to be those who get 35 or more questions correct) of this screener are invited to participate in regional in-person auditions.
In-person audition process (regular play games)
Tryouts for regular play games are administered to groups of 18 to 21 people at scheduled dates and times. Upon arriving, contestant applicants are asked to fill out information sheets with their contact information, eligibility information, and availability, and are asked to provide five anecdotes that may be used during the contestant interview portion of the show (a form is emailed in advance).
The first phase of the group audition process is divided into three parts.
- A contestant coordinator gives an introductory talk reviewing the rules and particularities of the game and providing some guidelines regarding energy, volume, and timing for the applicants. Some sample clues are read aloud (and displayed on a monitor or projection screen) and applicants are called upon to raise their hands and give out the responses.
- Fifty Jeopardy!-style clues in fifty different categories are displayed on the screen at the front of the room and read aloud in a recording by a Clue Crew member (previously, Johnny Gilbert, the show's announcer, did the voice-over on this). A potential contestant has eight seconds to write down his or her response (no need to phrase in the form of a question here) before the next clue is read.
- The contestant coordinators take the completed response sheets and grade them. Though some sources state that a score of 35 (70%) is passing, the contestant coordinators refuse to confirm or deny any passing score number. Exact scores are not disclosed.
This is followed by 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 they possess the knowledge to compete on the show, as they have already passed the test, and are looking for on-the-air-compatible qualities. Auditionees are encouraged to display energy and use a loud, confident voice. After playing a few clues, the contestant coordinators give each potential contestant a few minutes to talk about themselves. The coordinators request that they finish by telling what they would do with any money they won on Jeopardy!
After the end of the tryout, all auditionees who have taken the online test and the in-person test are placed into the "contestant pool" and are eligible to be called to compete for the next eighteen months. The show uses 400 contestants per season, and it is emphasized at the audition that test scores are the most important factor in determining who out of the thousands of applicants will be selected.
The Jeopardy! Brain Bus
The Jeopardy! promotional vehicle, a 32-foot Winnebago dubbed the "Brain Bus", travels to 12 cities annually conducting traveling contestant searches divided into two activities: a Pre-Test section and a Fun Play section.
In the Pre-Test, attendees who are at least 18 years old are given a 10-question version of the above qualifying test. (At least three different versions of the test are used, so attendees cannot copy answers from neighbors.) If the attendee passes the test (as above, scores are not given, only pass/fail results), they are given a form that allows them to attend and attempt the full 50-question qualifier (as described above) the next day.
The Fun Play area allows attendees, regardless of age, to play a modified "quick game" of Jeopardy! for prizes. Attendees queue up in three lines, and are given a static board of six categories. The host—usually a member or members of the Clue Crew--choose one of the attendees at the head of their line to pick a category and "dollar amount" (ranging from $200 to $1000, as in the current Jeopardy! Round. A clue is shown, and the line leaders—each using a similar buzzer device to those used on the show—attempt to signal in and answer. After five clues are played, the line leaders hand off the buzzers to the next person in line, and are allowed to choose one of the give-away prizes at the front of the game stage (these usually include Jeopardy!-logoed t-shirts, keychains, hats, drink bottles and the like). If, during play, a player finds a Daily Double (usually in a specifically identified category), that player plays the clue alone for the chance to win a larger prize (recently, this has been a copy of the reference work The New York Times Guide To Essential Knowledge, and the category is ALL THE NEWS THAT'S FIT TO PRINT.) In addition, some attendees are invited to create and sing their own lyrics for the Jeopardy! Theme. Those willing to sing the lyrics on stage get a special prize (at recent events, this has been the Jeopardy! DVD Home Game System).
Beginning in Season 26, the Brain Bus link was removed from the official Jeopardy! website. However, there is a page that indicates test dates for adults, college students, teens, and kids to take the online test.
Episodes featuring children as contestants
Tryouts for Kids Week, Holiday Kids Week, and Back to School Week are slightly different in that the mock Jeopardy! game is played before the thirty-question test is given. During the mock game, coordinators sometimes open up triple stumper questions to the other potential contestants. Potential contestants are called or notified by the station on which Jeopardy! airs in that particular market. Fifteen children who are between ten to twelve years old are chosen for each filming, along with one alternate.
The mandatory waiting period after taking the online contestant exam is one year. Prospective contestants who have completed an in-person test and interview remain in the contestant pool for 18 months, only after the expiration of which may they attend another in-person audition.
Auditions in the Art Fleming era
Tryouts for the original version were conducted somewhat differently. In a classroom-type arrangement, potential contestants wrote their questions to the answers held up by the contestant coordinator, who used cards which had previously actually been used on the show. While the exams were being scored, the staff explained that on any given day, the contestants who actually appear all scored the same number (or very nearly the same number) on this tryout. For the next day, the staff would select two new contestants who had scored a point or two higher than the winner that day, and so on day after day. This typically resulted in a pattern in which almost no contestant was able to win 5 days in a row (because she or he was subsequently competing with contestants who were probably better) -- until the scores escalated to the point at which all three contestants had scored at or near the maximum possible score. When these high scorers, competing against each other day after day, eventually produced an undefeated champion, the contestant pool was "reset" back to scorers who barely passed with the minimum score.
Potential contestants were told that if their score was not in the range that they were seeking that particular day, their names and information would be put into a contestant pool, and that — if they lived near New York — they might be called to come to the studio at any time in the next several months when their "number" came up (although this was, they made it clear, unlikely, due to the large number of contestants who had tried out). Since potential contestants had no idea what the target score was for that day, they had no idea whether it would be a good thing to deliberately score lower than they were capable of scoring.
- Explanation of eligibility requirements on the official Jeopardy! website
- Fleming, Art (1979), Art Fleming's TV Game Show Fact Book, Salt Lake City, Utah: Osmond Publishing Company, pp. 14–15, ISBN 0-89888-005-X
- Eisenberg, Harry (1993). Inside "Jeopardy!": What Really Goes on at TV's Top Quiz Show. Salt Lake City, Utah: Northwest Publishing Inc. pp. 32–35. ISBN 1-56901-177-X.
- Eisenberg, first edition, page 278.
- Dupée, Michael (1998). How to Get on Jeopardy! and Win!: Valuable Information from a Champion. Seacaucus, New Jersey: Citadel Press. pp. 3–10. ISBN 0-8065-1991-6.
- "Post to the "NYC auditions" thread on the official Jeopardy! Message Board". May 4, 2007. Retrieved May 5, 2007.
- Geisinger biomedical engineer wins on 'Jeopardy!' Rick Dandes, December 10, 2009
- Richmond, Ray (2004). This is Jeopardy!: Celebrating America's Favorite Quiz Show. New York: Barnes & Noble Books. p. 170. ISBN 0-7607-5374-1.
- "This is JEOPARDY! - Contestant FAQ". "Online tests may be offered more than once in any 12-month period, but Adults may only take the online test once a year. If you passed the online test and were invited to an "in person" interview, you will be in our active files for 18 months. If at the end of 18 months from the date of your in-person tryout, you have not been booked to appear on the show, you are eligible to take the online test again. If you attended an authorized Jeopardy! contestant event (i.e. Jeopardy! Challenge), passed a qualifying test, and participated in an "in person" interview, you must wait 18 months from the date of that in-person tryout before you are eligible to take the online test. If you did not pass the qualifying test, the regular online test rules apply."
- JEOPARDY! Teen FAQ-Will I receive my teen's test results?
- Jeopardy!:a revealing look inside TV's top quiz show, contestants and question selection process unveiled Harry Eisenberg, Lifetime Books, 1997