Jonathan Competes on Jeopardy: FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

Was Ken Jennings there? Did you beat Ken?

Ken Jennings was not there. Although he had not lost yet on the air (as of early November), they had already filmed the show where he loses. His losing episode aired on November 30.

How did you get to be on Jeopardy!?

To qualify as a Jeopardy! contestant, you have to take (and pass) a fifty-question written test. I’m told that the pass rate is about 15%. They offer the test throughout the year in Los Angeles, and they often go on the road looking for contestants around the country.

I took the test in San Francisco, when the contestant-search team was here in September, 2004. (Read more about the experience here.)

Once you pass the test, they put your information in their files for one year, and you may or may not get called. I’m told that only about one-third of the people who qualify end up on the show. They have 400 slots for regular, adult contestants each year, so your odds really depend on the number of people who qualify that year.

For more information about trying out, visit the Jeopardy! website.

What is Alex really like?

I don’t really know. As a contestant, you don’t really get to meet Alex – the first I saw him is when he walked out on-stage during the taping of the day’s first show. You do get to chat for 30 seconds on the air (just like it appears on television), and again at the end, at center stage, as the credits roll.

During the breaks between episodes, Alex and announcer Johnny Gilbert take questions from the studio audience and chat a bit with them.

The reason you don’t get any time alone with Alex is their concern about cheating. All of the contestants are kept isolated (sequestered) from anyone who may have had access to the questions or answers. Since Alex has certainly seen the questions, they keep you away from him!

So, how did you do?

Well… I had a wonderful time. I had the lead with $18,300 going into Final Jeopardy. Then we all got Final Jeopardy wrong, and I finished in second place.

Read more about the game

How much money did you win?

The second-place person gets $2000. (The third-place contestant gets $1000. The day’s champion gets whatever cash he or she earns, and gets to come back another day.)

I haven’t actually gotten the check yet. And I understand that taxes will take a big chunk of the money.

Were you nervous?

Because the game moves so quickly, I had to be totally focused on the gameboard and the questions, so I really couldn’t even think about how I was feeling. When we paused for commercial, though, I noticed that my knees were shaking and my legs felt a little like jelly.

So I guess I must have been a bit nervous, but while playing I was so “in the moment” that my nerves really didn’t make any difference.

What’s with the annoying exclamation point after “Jeopardy!”?

Yeah, annoying, isn’t it. The exclamation point is part of the show’s name, which just makes it difficult when you’re using other punctuation around it, as in the above question. Plus it makes me sound excited all the time – Jeopardy! Jeopardy! Jeopardy! Wheeeeeeeee!

In fact, the Jeopardy! people like to always put the name in all caps – JEOPARDY! – but we’ve got to draw the line somewhere. It’s bad enough that I sound so excited every time I type the name: do I really have to shout, too? Don’t blame me; I didn’t name the show.

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