They may call them commercial breaks, but the work doesn’t end on Jeopardy! Most people probably think that in between filming the host and the guests mingle or take a moment to soak it all in. That doesn’t happen. In fact, the pace ramps up and into a frenzy.
Most game shows have a fairly standard schedule. This includes seven minutes of taping, followed by a two-minute commercial break — rinse and repeat. But that’s just what you see at home. On set, these times are benchmarks. So, when the Jeopardy! host throws to a commercial, a flurry of producers, assistants, make-up artists, and other behind-the-scene production crew members descend on the contestants like helpful wolves.
According to Mental Floss, the first commercial break is about fixing mistakes. Did the host flub a pronunciation? Was an audience member coughing during a question reading? Did a contestant stutter? Producers will re-record all of these moments so there are “clean” takes for broadcast.
This is also when producers will give contestants a pep talk. Is one of the players having an issue working the buzzer? Is one contestant visibly nervous or intimidated? The crew will help address these issues before the stage manager starts their countdown. “Back in 5, 4, 3 …”
The second break is more of the same, but much more relaxed. Contestants meet the host and have their photos taken. Producers will walk them through the rules of “Double Jeopardy” to make sure they understand how it works.
The final commercial break is all strategy. This is when contestants plan out their strategy for “Final Jeopardy.” If you want to be that guy and win by a single dollar, here is your time to figure out the math of your wager.
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That’s because Jeopardy! has a very strict buzzer policy. Contestants can’t buzz in until the host has finished reading the question. If they do, they’ll be locked out of buzzing in again for about a fifth of a second. That’s an ETERNITY in a quiz show like Jeopardy! Wait too long after the question is finished, and you’re toast.
Jennings says the key is to “Zen out” and don’t overthink things.
“It’s like swinging a tennis racket or a baseball bat. No, that’s not right. The Jeopardy! buzzer, she is like a woman. No, that’s not it either. All I know is, the more I thought about the timing, the less I could nail it. When I could somehow just Zen out and not think about what I was doing, I would do okay.”
So, basically, he’s saying “Use the Force.”