Jeopardy! was created by Merv Griffin, the former talk show host who also created Wheel of Fortune and Crosswords.
40. That’s Nuts!
His contributions to television may be legendary, but Griffin actually began his showbiz career as a musician. From the age of 19, Griffin was singing professionally on the radio and with an orchestra. His big hit? “I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts,” which sold 3 million copies in 1950.
39. The Original Jeopardy!
Griffin and his wife, Julann, came up with the idea for a game show called What’s the Question?, and pitched it to NBC executives. NBC offered them a deal before even looking at a pilot. Renamed Jeopardy!, the first episode of the new game show aired in 1964 and became an instant success—only Hollywood Squares had more viewers. The original Jeopardy! ran for over 10 years.
38. Art Fleming
Art Fleming was the host of the original Jeopardy! An actor by trade, with nearly 50 film credits to his name, Fleming gave up on game show hosting once Jeopardy! had run its course.
37. In the Form of a Question
Jeopardy! is different from an ordinary quiz in that it demands contestants answer in the form of a question. Julann Griffin proposed the idea for Jeopardy!, but it isn’t the first show to use this stipulation. An earlier game show, CBS Television Quiz, used the same format.
After a short-lived resurrection in 1978, Jeopardy! came back to television for good in 1984, spurred by the popularity of pub quizzes and the success of its sister-show, Wheel of Fortune. A recent contract renewal means you can tune in to Jeopardy! until at least 2020.
35. Alex Trebek
Alex Trebek has been the host of Jeopardy! since it returned in 1984. The Sudbury, Ontario native had previously hosted Reach for the Top, a high school quiz show on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, before pursuing television stardom in the United States.
34. Game Show Veteran
Trebek has plenty of experience hosting game shows, having hosted The Wizard of Odds, High Rollers, and several others. But it was his time on Jeopardy! that landed Trebek in the Guinness Book of World Records: he holds the record for most episodes of a single game show hosted.
33. Here’s Johnny
“This. is. Jeopardy! with your host, Aaaalex Trebek!” That’s the voice of Johnny Gilbert, who has been the announcer for Jeopardy! since the 1984 reboot. That’s long enough to land him in the Guinness Book of World Records for longest game show announcing career.
32. That Song
The mega-catchy Jeopardy! theme song—called, “Think!”—was written by Merv Griffin as a lullaby for his son. It was originally called “A Time for Tony.”
31. Giant Hit
“Think!” became so synonymous with, well, thinking, that movies and television shows began using it as a clever musical joke. Griffin estimates royalties from “Think!” have earned him $70 million over his lifetime.
30. Asking Questions
A team of eight writers and seven researchers craft every episode of Jeopardy! The writers begin by coming up with a category. From there they craft several clues, choosing the best ones based, in part, on how recently they asked a question about a specific topic. Only once the questions have been written and selected are they passed on to researchers for fact-checking. Final Jeopardy questions are written individually, but they come with a condition: at least one of the writers must be able to answer the question.
29. One or the Other
You can’t be on Jeopardy! if you’ve been on Wheel of Fortune.
28. Before and After
The most common Jeopardy! category is “Before & After,” which requires contestants to answer a nonsensical question by mashing two different answers together. For example: “Oklahoma Thunder forward who wrote Animal Farm.” The answer is “Who is Paul George Orwell?”
27. The J-Archive
A complete list of all questions asked on Jeopardy! is kept online at the J-Archive. Jeopardy! fanatics have painstakingly compiled categories, questions, and answers listed episode by episode.
26. A Day’s Work
Though Jeopardy! airs five days a week, Trebek and crew shoot a week’s worth of episodes at time. To give the impression that time has passed, Trebek changes suits between episodes (he claims to own 100 of them).
25. Most Appearances
The record for most consecutive appearances on Jeopardy! belongs to Ken Jennings, who enjoyed 15 minutes of fame after making 75 consecutive appearances in 2004.
24. Change of the Rules
Jennings’ impressive streak would have been impossible just two years earlier. In 2003, a rule limiting contestants to five consecutive appearances was dropped, allowing contestants to stay on the show for as long as they keep winning.
23. Big Money
Over the course of his 74 consecutive wins, Jennings won $2,520,700. His total winnings are $3,196,300.
22. Biggest Winner
Still, Jennings is not the biggest winner in Jeopardy! history. That title belongs to Brad Rutter, who won for five days straight in 2000 (before the rule change). His five-day winnings combined with his winnings at various Jeopardy! Champions tournaments total an astronomical $4,555,102. He’s the highest-earning American game show contestant of all time.
21. Lowest winner
Less thrilled, probably, was contestant Darryl Scott. In 1993, the US Air Force Lieutenant Colonel won with a grand total of $1.
20. A Small Coincidence
This feat was matched in 2017 by Manny Abell, who is an officer in the US navy. Two others have won with a single dollar on Celebrity Jeopardy!: Benjamin Salisbury in 1997, and Brandi Chastain in 2001.
19. Biggest Loser
Scott and Abell have nothing to complain about, of course—at least they won. Jeopardy! does not publicize the record lowest score on the show, perhaps out of sympathy. Some viewers say they remember scores as low as -$10,000.
18. Debt Forgiven
Don’t worry, whoever was the biggest loser didn’t have to pay anything back. Even if contestants finish in the red, they still walk away with the standard $1,,000 given to those who finish in third place. Contestants who finish second get $2,000.
17. Three-way Tie
In the 2013 Teen Tournament, none of the contestants answered the Final Jeopardy question correctly. Unfortunately, all three of them had bet their entire day’s winnings on the question, meaning all three ended the episode tied at zero.
16. Kristin Sausville
Kristin Sausville escaped such a fate in 2015, when two other contestants went into the red, leaving her all alone for Final Jeopardy. She still had to answer the final question, which she got incorrect, but she walked away with $6,800.
15. Another Small Coincidence
Oddly enough, the same thing had happened to a player who competed with Kristin’s husband, Justin, in the Tournament of Champions. Together, the Sausvilles have won $228,201 on Jeopardy!
14. Jeopardy! Gamesmanship
Repeat contestants say it’s not just brains that help you win Jeopardy! Ken Jennings attributes his success to his reflexes: buzzers don’t work until after Trebek has finished the question, and you get locked out if you answer too early, so timing is crucial.
13. Forrest Bouncing
There are other strategies for winning, like bouncing back and forth between categories to catch other contestants off-guard and increase your chances of getting the Daily Double questions. Forrest Bouncing, named for 1986 Tournament of Champions winner Chuck Forrest, is legal but discouraged because it makes it harder for the viewers at home to keep up.
12. The Most Hated Man in Jeopardy!
One contestant’s aggressive use of the Forrest Bounce irritated viewers so much they declared him “the Jeopardy Villain” on social media. Arthur Chu won $298,200 over the course of his 12 day appearance on the show, but his streak ended when he bet an entire day’s winnings in Final Jeopardy, losing to Diana Peloquin.
The popularity of Jeopardy! has led to a number of spin-offs, including VH1’s Rock and Roll Jeopardy!, Celebrity Jeopardy!, and a children’s version called Jep! Jeopardy! has also been adapted to 30 different countries, including Israel and Australia.
10. Celebrity Jeopardy! Champion
Celebrity Jeopardy!’s biggest winner was Conan O’Brien sidekick Andy Richter, who won $68,000 for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
9. The Parody
Celebrity Jeopardy! was parodied by Saturday Night Live from 1996 to 2002. In the recurring sketch, Alex Trebek (as played by Will Ferrell) is forced to endure the insults of a loutish and uncooperative Sean Connery (played by Darrell Hammond). Trebek was a good sport, and said he enjoyed the sketch, which has even been referenced in questions on the real Jeopardy!
8. A TV Institution
The show remains just as popular as ever. An average of 25 million people watch Jeopardy! every week.
7. With Age Comes Wisdom
The average age of a Jeopardy! viewer is 65. Granted, that’s down from an average of 70 in 2000. Gotta get those youths!
6. Critical Success
To date, Jeopardy! has won 33 Daytime Emmy Awards, including 15 for Outstanding Game Show. It has also been awarded a Peabody Award, the only post-1960 game show to receive that honor.
5. Hopeful Contestants
More than 100,000 people take the Jeopardy! online application quiz each year. Of those, 3,000 would-be contests are chosen for a one-on-one interview. They are then subjected to a 50-question written test and a live round of Jeopardy! before being invited to appear on the show.
4. Long Odds
Jeopardy! has just a 0.4% acceptance rate. You are more likely to write a New York Times bestseller than compete on Jeopardy!
3. Rules Apply
Plenty of rules prevent people from appearing on Jeopardy! People who have appeared on a nationally-broadcast game show in the past year are ineligible. So are people who have appeared on three game shows in the last decade.
2. Easy Answers
The most common answer given by contestants on Jeopardy! is “What is Australia?” But this isn’t the most common correct answer. If you ever find yourself on Jeopardy! and have no clue what the answer is, you should know that the most common correct response is “What is China?”
1. Super Fan
Trebek says he watches Jeopardy! every evening–unless there is a Lakers game on.