Becoming a contestant on Jeopardy! is absurdly hard. It’s easier to get into Harvard University or write a New York Times Best Seller. But that doesn’t stop people from applying.
A lot of people. In 2018, 80,000 people filled out the online application and took the quiz, according to the Detroit Free Press. Producers will only choose 2,500 to 3,000 for in-person interviews from that pool. But only about 400 people become players each season.
And this is a slow process. It can take up to 18 months from application to air. And that’s only if you can survive the show’s rigorous audition process.
According to the show’s website, players first must pass the online Jeopardy! quiz, which consists of 50 questions. Producers then put those names into a random selection pool and send audition invites to those chosen. At that audition, potential contestants will face off in a mock version of the game. The show takes the best performing contestants in this round for in-person interviews with producers. Jeopardy! picks its players from this pool.
The same goes for the teen and college-themed tournaments.
Find out more about the Jeopardy! quiz and application process here.
Alex Trebek Describes the Perfect ‘Jeopardy!’ Contestant
So, you’ve made it on Jeopardy! Now what? Getting on the show is insanely hard, but winning is even harder. Former host Alex Trebek says there is a former contestant that players should model themselves after. It’s obviously Ken Jennings.
Jennings won 74 episodes in a row in 2004. No one has come close to winning that many games. And the show has asked him back several times since then. When Trebek died last year, producers chose him to be the first guest host in his stead.
Trebek explained what made Jennings the “perfect contestant” in a 2009 interview with Television Academy Foundation.
“It was a marvelous time,” Trebek said of the win streak. “Ken was the perfect contestant. He was bright, he understood the game, knew how to play, he understood the nuances, knew how to wager, and he was funny. Perfect, perfect contestant. We’ve had contestants since then be just as entertaining but they weren’t able to sustain the way Ken was. They’d win 10 games, 15 games, 19 games, but no one, I don’t think anyone will ever come along and win 74 games in a row.”
James Holzhauer had the second-longest win streak with 32 in 2019. Brad Rutter, however, is the all-time leading money winner with nearly $5 million, according to the Jeopardy! Hall of Fame.