For Jeopardy! contestants, it made all sorts of sense to scrutinize game strategy when the quiz show started its rotation of guest hosts.
All the contestants made the show because each showed deep knowledge on a variety of topics. According to The Ringer, 150,000 potential Jeopardy! stars took the quiz show entry test last year. They all vied for only 400 spots. So the game strategy is all about how quickly one can press the buzzer, or signal device, as the show calls it.
But timing the buzzer is far more complicated than simply clicking it quickly. On Jeopardy! there’s a guy off set who flips the switch that allows contestants to click. It triggers a blue light. You can’t click until the host says the final word of the question. If you’re too early, the contestant is locked out for a quarter-second.
Contestants for years studied the voice and cadence of long-time host Alex Trebek. But the strategies changed when Trebek died last November of pancreatic cancer. Super champion Ken Jennings hosted six weeks worth of shows. The guest hosts since then have ranged from Mike Richards, the Jeopardy! producer to Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers to CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
Now, the strategy is to click as soon as the blue light flashes. That’s about the only way to get through the game. Contestants don’t know who the guest host will be until they get on set. Jeopardy! typically announces the names of the guest hosts, but usually after the segments have taped.
Contestants now really seem to follow the teachings of game show guru Fritz Holznagel. He instructs on how to shave milliseconds off your buzzing time by focusing on the blue light. Ken Jennings, who won 74 straight games on Jeopardy! was the one who preached about cadence. James Holzhauer, who won 32 straight on Jeopardy!, is a disciple of Holznagel.
Michael Harris is the Jeopardy! staffer charged with triggering the blue light. And Harris is the one who needs the crash course on the hosts. Harris comes in on the host’s rehearsal day and works on timing the blue light.
Contestant Lindsay Wilcox talked to The Ringer about answering questions from Aaron Rodgers.
“The host is new every time,” she said. “And the only opportunity you have to get used to their voice is right there on the set. I was just able to listen to this incredibly attractive man read me some trivia clues and try to get as many of them right as possible.”
Jeopardy! returns Monday with the final week of Anderson Cooper. So stay tuned. You can’t see the blue light from home, but the contestants can.