Judging Jeopardy

Jeopardy!, the television game show, has been on air continuously since September 10, 1984.    It is a classic quiz game:  the host, Alex Trebek, reads a clue to the contestants and audience; a contestant hits a button to ring in and offers an answer (in the form of a question).  If the answer is correct, the contestant is rewarded with a pre-determined number of points (in dollar format); if the answer is incorrect, the contestant is penalized the same amount.

The show is incredibly transparent except for in one notable exception: when Trebek “consults the judges.”   Sometimes this happens when a contestant gives an answer which, in Trebek’s view, could be correct — but it does not match the answer on his notes.  In that case, the “judges” respond to Trebek off-screen.   At other times, the show will go to commercial and, upon return, the players’ scores will have changed.  Trebek will explain that the judges consulted and decided that an answer, initially judged to be incorrect, was in fact right, and the new scores reflect that change.   We never see or hear the judges.

It turns out, this process is not just for show.   There is, in fact, a panel of judges who participate in each show, fulfilling the role purported.

The judging table is comprised of ten people and includes show writers, producers, researchers, and an attorney.  (Jeopardy! has researchers on staff — one account claims that there are as many as six on staff at any given time.)  While the review process is typically quick — a matter of minutes — at times, reviews have taken more than a half hour.   When the review occurs in the middle of game play, the judges signal Trebek that the contestant gave correct (but undocumented) answer with a simple thumbs up.

What happens if the judges err?  All is not lost.  At least twice, players who have lost Jeopardy! games due to questionable rulings have been invited back onto the show.

Bonus fact:  You’ll probably never hear Alex Trebek attempt to say “The answer is: Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg is in this state,” but if he does, the answer is “What is Massachusetts.”  The Lake, more commonly (for good reason!) known as Webster Lake, is often cited as having the longest name of any place in the United States.

From the Archives: The Strategy Behind Rock Paper Scissors: Suggested here because the bonus fact is about game shows.

Related: A trio of books from Jeopardy! champ Ken Jennings:  Maphead, Brainiac, and his Trivia Almanac of 8,888 questions.

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