How to Get on Jeopardy: A Step-By-Step Playbook

How to Get on Jeopardy: Alex Trebek and Loren Lee Chen

Loren Lee Chen laid restless on the floor of his empty West Hollywood apartment. A mix of excitement and anxiety left him wide awake.

He had only a sheet, a light blanket, and a pillow to rest his head. In the weeks leading up to this sleepless night, he sold most of his furniture – including a queen-size bed. After living the last six years in Los Angeles, he was down to his final two days on the West Coast.

But the prospect of moving home to Boston wasn’t why Loren couldn’t sleep. Neither was it his lack of a comfortable bed. Rather, it was the events of the day in front of him that caused Loren’s insomnia-riddled evening.

“It was tough because it’s a huge day the next day,” Loren said. “I was super-excited, so I probably didn’t get that much sleep. And I was worried about oversleeping, too.”

In 24 hours, Loren would find himself under the bright lights of Stage 10 at Sony Picture Studios. With that iconic jingle, powered by a 75-piece orchestra blasting beneath him, announcer Johnny Gilbert would belt out a simple, yet venerable phrase to make Loren’s “lifelong dream” into a reality.

This Is Jeopardy!

“That morning I probably drank like 10 coffees or something,” Loren said about the day of his game show taping. “I know people were saying when they were watching me on the show, I was very jittery. But I was probably just pumped full of caffeine.”

Paired with adrenaline, the caffeine coursing through his system did its job that day. Not only did Loren get to appear on Jeopardy, he won, too. On only a few hours of sleep, Loren blitzed his way through three shows. He became a two-time Jeopardy champion and trolled an NBA team in the process.

Loren’s Jeopardy moment was years in the making. While in high school, he took his first swing at the show. He auditioned for the teen tournament edition of the program, but didn’t make the cut. In college, he attempted to get on Jeopardy twice, yet failed to go further than the online test.

Luck, though, was finally on his side during his fourth and final try.

Each year, about 100,000 people take Jeopardy’s online test. From there, only 2,000 to 3,000 hopefuls receive an invite to a regional audition. If you make the show like Loren did, then congratulations. You’re one of an elite 400 to 500 annual contestants.

Considering those numbers, it’s clear that making it on Jeopardy is no small feat. There are a handful of factors at play. You need intelligence plus charisma, dashed with a little bit of luck, too.

There is, though, a process to making the show that we can deconstruct from Loren’s experience. If you’ve ever wondered how to get on Jeopardy, then this article is for you.

How to Get on Jeopardy Step #1: Study and Preparation

The trivia featured on the show isn’t that deep. On any given topic, Jeopardy questions are surface level at most. But the challenge lies in preparing for the breadth of subject matter the show often covers.

It’s also important to expose yourself to the style of clues that the show presents. When you do, you’ll begin to notice obvious patterns. Jeopardy doesn’t pose the same clue twice, but there are many topics that come up over and over again. One clue may include an answer to another.

Some Useful Ways to Practice

There are many ways you can practice for Jeopardy. These are four that Loren recommended:

  • Watch old episodes. Loren did this a lot. He often dug deep into the show’s archive while preparing for the Jeopardy online test and his audition.
  • Browse the web for Jeopardy resources. Loren relied on two sites in particular: J! Archive and Protobowl. Also, Jeopardy.com has a test prep center to help you study for the online exam.
  • Play the Jeopardy video game. Loren had a copy of the Playstation 4 version. Play the game on the console of your choice.
  • Read children’s books. This was a tactic used by James Holzhauer, who won $2.4 million as a 32-time Jeopardy champion. Children’s books allow you to study an expansive breadth of subjects in a brief amount of time.

The Minimum Requirements

If you want to get on Jeopardy, you must meet a few key stipulations. Here are specific qualifications you need to have:

  • Be over the age of 18. The exceptions are if you’re applying to the teen tournament or college championship. In the teen tournament, you must be 13 to 17 years old during the taping of a show. For the college championship, applicants should be full-time undergraduates. They can’t have previous bachelor’s degrees, either.
  • No previous appearances. You haven’t competed on any version of the show featuring Alex Trebek.
  • No inside connections. Within the last five years, you haven’t been employed by, related to, or know anyone who works for: Sony Pictures TV, Inc., Quadra Productions, Inc., CBS Television Distribution, Wheel of Fortune or Jeopardy prize suppliers, TV stations (including advertisers and related radio stations) broadcasting Wheel of Fortune or Jeopardy.

How to Get on Jeopardy Step #2: Taking the Online Test

The first major hurdle en route to getting on the show is the Jeopardy online test. The show offers limited opportunities to take it. Testing events happen once or twice a year, and you’re allowed to take part only one time.

Each event has a three-day window for hopeful contestants to take the test. You can do so on any day that’s convenient, but only once per period. You’re disqualified if you take it more than one time.

To take the test, first make sure you have a MyJeopardy! Account. If you don’t, then sign up. After that, complete the extended contestant registration.

To hear about upcoming testing events, you can register to the Jeopardy email list. Also, the TV show makes announcements throughout the year for when the test is open.

The Format

The test is 50 questions, each with a time limit of 15 seconds to answer. It shouldn’t take you more than 13 minutes to complete.

When event day rolls around, log in to Jeopardy.com at least 30 minutes before the test begins. It starts 3 minutes into the hour it’s scheduled. There are no do-overs when the test begins. If you’re late and the test has already started, you’re not even allowed to log in.

After it’s over, Jeopardy posts the answers to the test. But they don’t reveal the scores, meaning you need to keep track of how you answered.

“They never publicly say what the cut off is, if there is a cut off, for correct number of answers,” Loren said. “People just sort of guess that it’s 35 just based on other people’s experiences.”

Afterwards, you receive an email confirmation from Jeopardy that your test has processed. Beyond that, there’s not much else you hear. From there, it’s a matter of waiting and seeing if you’re selected to audition.

How to Get on Jeopardy Step #3: The In-Person Audition

Auditions take place around the country. You sign up for the one closest to you at the end of the Jeopardy online test. If you’re invited, you’ll receive an email from the show, usually about two weeks ahead of your audition date.

Several months after taking the Jeopardy online test, Loren tried out for the show in Los Angeles. From inside a hotel conference room, Loren tested his wit against 30 or so fellow hopefuls. The whole process took no more than two hours.

How the Audition Works

Your Jeopardy audition starts with headshots taken of you and other aspiring contestants. When finished, contestant coordinators answer any questions you and other hopefuls might have.

Next up is a written test. It’s the same format as the online quiz, but this time in person with pen and paper. A screen projects the clues for you to answer.

If you pass the written test, the audition then becomes more of a traditional casting call. Contestant coordinators judge your every move as you play a mock game. Loren noted that the coordinators pay attention to the following qualities:

  • If you enunciate when you talk.
  • Your comfort level with picking categories and clues.
  • Your buzzer speed.

You also conduct a mock interview with coordinators. To prepare for this, come armed to the audition with stories to tell about yourself. Contestant coordinators want to see how articulate you are under pressure.

“At the end of the day, they’re trying to cast for an entertaining TV show,” Loren said. “It definitely helps to be camera presentable as well.”

How to Get on Jeopardy Step #4: Waiting and Accepting the Invite

After your in-person audition, what follows next is…more silence. For up to 18 months, you may or may not get an invite to the show. You receive no feedback about how you did during your audition or what you can do to improve for another time.

“Once you’re good enough trivia-wise to get on the show, then it’s almost just luck probably,” Loren said.

If you do get invited to the show, there’s little time between then and when you film. You’re notified about a month in advance of your taping date.

Why Loren Made It on Jeopardy

As you recall, Loren auditioned for Jeopardy twice: once as an adult and once as a teen. Looking back at his experience, he understands why he made the cut his second time around.

When Loren first auditioned more than a decade earlier for teen tournament, he didn’t do so well. Loren was much more shy and anxious as a teenager. And as a result, he stumbled over his words and didn’t prepare a good story to tell producers.

Knowing what went wrong the first time around, Loren knew what to improve. Reflecting on how he got on Jeopardy, he thought he fixed the following qualities as an adult:

  • Speaking slow. During his adult audition, he was better at managing his speech.
  • Smiling. He’s not sure if this was a joke. But he remembered that one contestant coordinator said his smile brightened her day.
  • Bantering. Loren worked on his charisma and became more open to small talk. An avid hoops fanatic, he co-founded and hosted the On the NBA Beat podcast. He thought this helped him earn experience with talking to new people.

“I mean I was probably still awkward,” Loren said with a laugh. “But hopefully more endearingly so, or something.”

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Taping Jeopardy: What to Expect

You’ve aced the Jeopardy online test and you’ve charmed your way through the audition. For your efforts, you’ve earned that long-awaited invite to tape the show in Los Angeles. To compete on Jeopardy, a long day (or days, depending on how much you win) is ahead of you.

The show tapes two days a week, around two to three weeks a month. Every day that Jeopardy films, it tapes a week’s worth of episodes.

If you’ve earned that invite to play, you can stay in a hotel not far from Sony Pictures Studios. You are, though, responsible for paying for all your travel expenses. When your tape day arrives, a shuttle bus picks you up in the morning to drive you to the studio.

Arriving to the Sony Lot

Filming Jeopardy is an all-day affair. When you arrive on set, you take care of some legal matters first before the taping begins. There’s plenty of paperwork to sign, including a non-disclosure agreement. This restricts you from talking about the results of your show before it airs.

Next, you have about an hour of practice time on the Jeopardy set, which isn’t huge. In fact, from Loren’s recollection, it’s smaller than a high school gym and fits about 100 to 200 people. Being on set gives you a chance to acquaint yourself with the podium, how to work the buzzer, and the screen to look for clues.

After your practice session is through, you go to makeup and wardrobe. Note that you supply your own clothes for the show. Loren brought three different outfits to mix and match in the event he hit a winning streak.

Time to Play the Game

The show tapes its first episode at 10:30 a.m. The filming of two consecutive episodes follow, before an hour-and-a-half lunch break. Afterwards, Jeopardy tapes another two programs before calling it a day.

“If you win a game, on TV, it looks like you come back the next day and face two new opponents,” Loren said. “What actually happens is the winner of that game will just go back to the dressing room and get changed and come back out and immediately play again.”

Each game takes about 30 minutes to tape. This includes a few pauses for commercial as well. During those breaks, host Alex Trebek fields and answers questions from the audience.

While filming, you spend very little time sitting down. In fact, get ready to stand for most of the day if you can win. Mental and physical fatigue are both factors you encounter the longer you play.

“At least for me, when I was on stage, it’s like a huge adrenaline spike almost,” Loren said. “You have to keep your brain operating lightning fast for a prolonged period of time.”

Mingling With Fellow Contestants and Alex Trebek

Inside the contestants’ room, there’s a palpable sense of nerves and excitement. But almost everyone is open to chatting. Before and during a Jeopardy taping, you can get to know some of your fellow contestants pretty well.

Interacting with Trebek, though, is much more limited. There’s a brief moment in the morning when the longtime host greets you and the other contestants. Besides that, Trebek spends most of his time in his own dressing room before the taping begins.

What airs on TV represents most of the interactions contestants have with Trebek. Aside from playing the game, most of your chances to talk with him are light banter at best.

During his taping, Loren witnessed a unique chat between Alex and another contestant. While filming the credits, this contestant talked at length about living off the grid. Loren recalled the guy’s enthusiasm for building a self-sustaining house.

“Apparently that is something Alex is super-into,” Loren said. “He likes doing that cabin living, so they were chatting about that a lot.”

After the Taping

Jeopardy broadcasts shows long after they’re filmed. In Loren’s case, his first episode aired a few months following his September 2016 taping. All three episodes he appeared on broadcast in January 2017, about a year from the day he took the Jeopardy online test.

A check for any money you win doesn’t come right away, either. Loren won $38,000 from his two victories on Jeopardy. But, the check for his prize winnings arrived in his mailbox mid-April 2017.

For Loren, making it onto Jeopardy fulfilled a “lifelong dream.” But it also gave him access to an exclusive club. Becoming a Jeopardy contestant is like joining a fraternity. Only a select few earn the privilege, and once you’re in, you’re in it forever.

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Jon is a freelance writer who authors this site. Learn more about him here. You can also follow Jon on Twitter or Instagram.

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