‘Jeopardy!’ Icon Alex Trebek Hilariously Detailed Why His Contestants Behaved Themselves: ‘Don’t Mess with the Old Man’

by Amy Myers

Let’s face it—if you’re a contestant on Jeopardy!, chances are, you know you’re pretty smart. In fact, you’re probably smarter than most of your friends and family. That’s why when contestants lose on the trivia game show, it comes as such a shock, and sometimes, there’s an outburst. However, the late host Alex Trebek once said he had his ways of keeping competitors in line on his show.

Whenever Trebek introduced new competitors on Jeopardy!, it always seemed like the contestants would have preferred he read their resume and credentials. From doctors to lawyers to just plain trivia extraordinaires, there seemingly wasn’t a single person that appeared on the game show that didn’t win “Most Likely to Succeed” in high school. (In fact, they might as well rename the superlative “Most Likely to End Up on Jeopardy!.)

But that’s what makes Jeopardy! so high-stakes for them. Along with a comfy cash prize, contestants have the chance to compete among the best of the best and improve once and for all that they have the most well-rounded knowledge.

‘Jeopardy!’ Host Said Contestants ‘Handle Themselves With Dignity’

Unfortunately, for those that overestimate their abilities on the show, that sometimes leads to sore losers. Not that you would ever know, though. As The Baltimore Sun suggested to Trebek in 2013, the second- and third-place competitors always acted with grace when they didn’t win the show.

And that’s thanks to Jeopardy!’s host, Trebek joked.

“There’s two reasons for that,” Trebek said. “One is, out of camera view, behind my lectern, there’s a bullwhip. Contestants see that before they come out. So they know, ‘Don’t mess with the old man.'”

And then the real reason:

“Also, our contestants are bright people,” Trebek shared. “They’re educated and they understand how to behave in public. Although many of them are not used to losing, because they are bright, they still handle themselves with dignity.”

But in a moment of weakness, sometimes, Jeopardy! contestants can slip up.

“What are they going to do, start screaming, ‘I was better than you! You got lucky!'” Trebek continued.

Alex Trebek Took Notes During the Game

With so many clues and so much information to remember about contestants, it’s a wonder how Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek kept it all straight while the cameras rolled. He shared with The Baltimore Sun that he liked to make diacritical notes (like accents and punctuation) on the show’s script.

“I do that on every script to make sure I don’t screw up the pronunciation or ruin the sense of the clue,” Trebek explained. “There’s a certain cadence to clues or speech in everyday life and on our electronic readouts, there’s only room for a certain number of characters per line, so two words that should go together on a line may not be together because there isn’t enough room. It’s incumbent upon the host to read it in order to make sense.”

The Jeopardy! host’s dedication to fluency and pronunciation demonstrated just how much effort and energy he put into each show and each interaction with contestants.