‘Jeopardy!’ Contestants Open Up About Their Secrets to Winning

by Leanne Stahulak
(Photo by Amanda Edwards/Getty Images)

Achieving success on “Jeopardy!” doesn’t mean you have to have a mega brain. According to these winners, the secrets to success are really quite simple.

Two former “Jeopardy!” contestants sat down with The New York Post earlier this week to talk gameplay strategy for the quiz show. Austin Rogers, a 12-day winner from 2017, opened up about his preparation leading up to his matches. And Jeffrey Williams, who competed on one of Alex Trebek’s last episodes, also shared his tips for success, even though he lost his match.

One of the biggest resources for both contestants was J! Archive, a fan-run database that compiled over 48,000 “Jeopardy!” clues from 1985 until today. Rogers and Williams would sift through the database to find patterns and trends for clues that have been repeated over the years.

“I would open random games [on the archive site] and play them in my head. I noticed what comes up the most. If a question says ‘artist in Iowa,’ it has to be Grant Wood,” Rogers said. “And if it says ‘Thornton Wilder,’ the correct response always has to be ‘Our Town.’”

Rogers had two weeks to prepare before his appearance. For those two weeks, he studied 11 hours a day, and not only on the J! Archive site.

“I watched film adaptations of well-known works that often turn up on ‘Jeopardy!’: ‘King Lear,’ ‘Sense and Sensibility,’ Bible documentaries,” Rogers said, noting that pop culture references were coming up more often.

But some categories Rogers described as a “Jeopardy!” contestant’s bread and butter. “Superlatives,” such as longest rivers and tallest mountains, as well as state capitals, should be thoroughly studied. “There is no excuse for a ‘Jeopardy!’ contestant to not know those answers,” he said. “They are easily remembered with mnemonics or songs.”

‘Jeopardy!’ Success Through Picture Books and Buzzer Strategy

Jeffrey Williams, whose episode aired in Dec. 2020 after the passing of Alex Trebek, tried a strategy suggested by former champ James Holzhauer.

“I picked up a tip from Holzhauer and bought children’s books on world history and geography and presidents,” Williams told The New York Post. “Holzhauer correctly pointed out that if you understand how the clues are written, a children’s level understanding of the topics provides big enough signposts to get you into the ballpark of an answer.”

Williams had more time to prep than Rogers. For three months, he spent 90 minutes a day sifting through picture books and J! Archive. The database especially helped him find “holes in my knowledge.”

“It also helped me to figure out where clues were leading,” Williams explained. “You start to notice wordplay in the clues, which guide you to the correct answers. You realize that the clues are more than just trivia questions.”

But having the knowledge and knowing how the questions are asked isn’t the only way to achieve “Jeopardy!” success. To even have a chance to answer the clue, you have to buzz in first. Rogers took this physical challenge quite seriously.

“I walked around New York with a thumb exerciser on my hand; it’s normally used for rehabbing fingers and has a resistance similar to that of the ‘Jeopardy!’ buzzer,” Rogers said. “I listened to episodes on my phone, practiced buzzing in, and looked like a frigging weirdo.”

Williams took a different approach, specifically by studying the“Secrets of the Buzzer” book. The strategy he adopted “was to relax your arm in order to speed up hitting the buzzer.” Williams also recommends that you “buzz in as the host says the last syllable.”