‘Jeopardy!’: Alex Trebek Explained the Importance of ‘Rhythm’ for Contestants

by Josh Lanier
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Alex Trebek once explained how important finding a rhythm is for Jeopardy! contestants. Aside from the tricky buzzers, it’s important to get a question correct, then another, to establish yourself and to keep your opponents at bay.

Trebek was on CBS This Morning when Charlie Rose asked about it in the 2012 interview.

“There is definitely a rhythm,” he said. “And a lot of people worry about that signaling device, and I tell them don’t worry once you come up with a correct response you gain in confidence. If you get the next correct response in that category, you own that category.”

He explained this has a profound effect on the psychology of the other Jeopardy! players.

“And the other people – your two opponents — suddenly back off a little and says ‘ah, darn it … that’s his category.”

Jeopardy! fans have always seen Trebek as an erudite man with a depth of knowledge. Unfortunately, he says, that’s just not true. He’s given the pronunciations and answers in advance. However, he said he loves learning new things from the show.

Not the trivia, but learning a new fact that sends him seeking to find out more about that particular topic.

Trebek died in October because of pancreatic cancer. No permanent host has been hired to replace him.

Understanding the Signalling System on ‘Jeopardy!’

Alex Trebek makes several references to the signaling system on Jeopardy! in the interview. It was a feature the show added in 1985, and it’s diabolical in how it changed the nature of the game.

It seems simple, but it’s not. The rules are that a contestant can’t buzz in to give a response until Trebek has finished reading the question. Buzz too early and you’re locked out for half a second — an eternity in game show terms.

Some lights run along the sides of the game board that the home audience can’t see. Players can’t buzz in before those lights vanish. It turns this tricky trivia game into a game of the fastest finger.

Ken Jennings, who has the most Jeopardy! wins ever, wrote on his website that a “victory most often goes not to the biggest brain; it goes to the smoothest thumb.”

“If you buzz in too early, the system actually locks you out for a fifth of a second or so,” he elaborated. “But if you’re too late, the player next to you is going to get in first. Somewhere between too early and too late is a very narrow sweet spot, 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.”

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