‘Jeopardy!’: What Did Alex Trebek Write Down in His Notes at the Lectern?

by John Jamison

Among our fondest memories of late “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek, perhaps none stand out quite as much as the emphasis he put on pronunciation.

If there was a complex word or phrase in a clue or answer, you could rest assured the longtime host would say it correctly. And what many people probably underestimate is the sheer amount of preparation Alex Trebek put into an episode taping. The man spent an hour and a half on pronunciation alone.

For nearly 40 years, Alex Trebek was the consummate game show host on “Jeopardy!” Among his priorities was making sure the rules of the game were clear. Further, he prided himself on keeping things equally fair to all contestants at all times. Part of that included the responsibility of delivering a clue and then determining the validity of an answer without stumbling.

A Fast-Pace Game Like ‘Jeopardy!’ Requires Perfection

“Jeopardy!” is a fast-paced game. The show itself is not a live broadcast, but the game is absolutely played live. And that means contestants are chomping at the bit to buzz in as fast as possible. It also means there isn’t room for a major mistake on the part of the host, otherwise, the game might be discounted entirely.

Contestants have talked about how “Jeopardy!” can be a rhythm game. There is a specific timing that the best of the best dial into when they’re playing. So if the host stumbles over a clue or stops to check if an answer is correct, he has influenced the outcome of the game.

That was a hard no in Alex Trebek’s book. So he spent hours marking notations on the game sheets. Of what? Diacritical marks, otherwise known as pronunciation marks. Insider had the opportunity to follow the late “Jeopardy!” host through a full day’s work in 2017. During that time, Trebek talked about the notes he was making on his game sheets.

“Diacritical, knowing where to stress, because of the layout of the screen that contains our clues, some words that should be together are separated, one on one line, the other on another line, and sometimes just naturally we tend to pause at the end of a line,” Trebek said. “So we don’t want to do that.  I want to run them together if they belong together.”

“Jeopardy!” taped five episodes a day, meaning Alex Trebek had to be prepared for five entirely separate games. And the preparation window that Alex Trebek spent with the game sheets wasn’t solely for pronunciation. He was also a quality control person.

On rare occasions, some repeats of clues or even just similarly themed ones would jump out. He circled clues that he had concerns about and brought them up at the “round-table meeting” he had with the team before every taping day.