Jeopardy: Information Under Fire

Variety is the spice of life.

Three contestants, three rounds, as many as sixty-one questions, and the one and only Alex Trebek:  Jeopardy has become a staple in pop-culture to the point of caricature. An example of the possibilities of parody is the successful and riotous “Celebrity Jeopardy” sketches on NBC’s Saturday Night Live. Comical while it lampoons the follies of fame, the Celebrity Jeopardy act is also so successful because it utterly and hilariously fails where the genuine Jeopardy succeeds, in creating a rigorous exchange or sometimes obscure, but always potentially accessible information. In Jeopardy‘s twenty-six year history the show has welcomed contestants regardless of cultural, occupational, or educational backgrounds. There are two provisos – they must pass an online quiz and an in-person audition in order to confirm the potential contestant’s general knowledgeability and aptitude for withstanding pressure. The result has been almost 300 shows and an average of 9 million daily viewers (NSS Galaxy Explorer season to date through 8/23/09 as cited in Sony, 2010).

Billy Wisse, editorial producer and writer on Jeopardy

With Trebek providing clues and contestants vying to be the first to “buzz in” and deliver the correct answer, Jeopardy introduces information at a rapid pace and expects it in return just as quickly. Since there is an inverse trade of information, where the answer is given in exchange for the question, it is not only the particular piece of information that they players must give, but they must do so using the correct formula. The categories within which the “answers” fall cover an immense breadth of knowledge, and so the most vast a person’s wealth of seemingly “trivial” knowledge and the more quickly they are able to express that knowledge in the correct form, the greater are a contestant’s chances of winning the game entirely. Considering the immense scope of the subjects inquired into, Jeopardy calls into question the futility of any knowledge. With the announcement of the categories, the contestants have a brief opportunity to consider the information that they know prior to the specific questions within the category being asked. For example, if one of the six categories announced contains answers regarding impressionist art, a contestant may mentally compile the names of particular impressionist artists or paintings, such as Monet’s Water Lilies, or themes like ballerinas in the works of Degas. Even prior to specific information being required general information, unique to each challenger, is summoned and reserved should the opportunity arise to use it. So we can see how individuals “not only […] see abstract connections between the structures of school [or business, or any number of situations where knowledge management is a central goal], but also recognize how their personal experiences have been influenced by, and in turn influence, themes common to those broad, society-wide institutions” (Pence, 2009, 171).

Do you know the question?

By giving the correct questions to given answers the players accumulate monetary winnings, with the researchers’writers of the answers equating the difficulty of a question with a financial value. In the realm of Jeopardy the more humble or obscure the information sought the greater payoff for the correct contender. This could affect strategy as contestants may prefer to select answers “worth” the most and leave the lesser valued answers for the end (or for the less strategic players). Contrariwise, a contestant faced with unfamiliar categories and a formidable lead may choose to play it safe and guess at questions that are worth less, as contestants giving incorrect answers are penalized with the deduction of the answer’s worth. Not only are the writers called upon to place values, but so are contestants when they select a Daily Double answer. When a competitor happens upon a Daily Double she, and she alone, must not only answer the question, but must also place a value on her potential knowledge of the specific category. This is similar to Final Jeopardy. In Final Jeopardy all of the competitors must take into account their knowledge and their competitor’s knowledge of the given category. Moreover, their decision must also take into account their opponents’ scores. The rare presentation of Video and Audio Daily Doubles is always a thrilling prospect. Although “regular” answers are read by the articulate and cool-headed Trebek – and competitors also have the advantage of reading along – Video and Audio clues present auditory or visual information, which may be more palatable to a contestant’s information-seeking style.

Jeopardy host Alex Trebek

Alex Trebek is the familiar, sometimes-mustachioed, face of Jeopardy. Trebek is the mediator between the contestants and the information, between the contestants and the writers/judges. Although they uncover and organize all of the information transmitted, the writers themselves are never seen. While they do not present the information, the writers’ influence may be felt during the show. Alex Trebek has been chosen as a more perfect conduit not only between the clues and the contestants, but between the judges and the contestants. This divergence in roles speaks to the importance of creating specific and enduring roles in fields of information research, collation, dissemination, and verification. Indeed, it may not always be appropriate that all of these functions be performed by the same person. Considering the importance time and clarity play in  Jeopardy, it is best to maintain the familiarity of one rhythmic voice.

Jeopardy writer Michele Loud

After almost thirty years of production, Jeopardy is a tightly-managed affair which, optimistically, expectantly, leaves little to chance. All episodes are pre-recorded so as to avoid embarrassing or otherwise unwanted circumstances (i.e. loud or obnoxious interjections from the in-studio audience, streaking) that will ultimately divert attention from Jeopardy’s primary purpose, this exchange of information. As mentioned, the pre-screening of Jeopardy contestants helps producers select people who are invested in taking part in this exchange. Of course, there are exceptions to this conscientiously controlled rule. Changes in scoring, for instance, are infrequent but sometimes unavoidable. These changes may be due to an error on Trebek’s part, such as when he initially accepts an incorrect question from a contestant. Judges may also call for a change in scoring after a contestant’s response is originally rejected, but upon the judges’ further investigation the question is found to be acceptable. In either case, the change may necessitate a rearranging of strategy for all competitors. These corrections are immediate regardless of whose errors precipitated them.  This sense of responsibility is commendable and it’s a policy that should be examined by all information managers; it speaks directly to the integrity and intellectual vigour of an individual or an institution.

A number of reports have been written on probability issues in and other mathematical experiments relating to Jeopardy (Floyd, 1994; Metrick, 1995). Thus, Jeopardy has contributed to a body of knowledge beyond the annals of trivia history. As Jeopardy has been rated “America’s Favourite Quiz Show” by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (Sony, 2010), studies have been conducted by management professionals on such topics as the function of games and friendly competition in business management (Azriel, Erthal, & Starr, 2005). Teachers from a variety of instructional levels have been eager to apply Jeopardy’s information concepts to the classroom. In a 2009 article Dan Pence makes the astute observation that

Jeopardy! […] embodies essential meanings which lie at the heart of education, such as intelligence and knowledge. It is powerful for students to use personal, often intimate, and sometimes painful experiences to critique their own values and experiences about education while they are engaged in some of those very behaviors.” (Pence, 2009, 172).

Do you know the question?

Jeopardy is built around the idea that knowledge is a product to be collected, summoned at a moment’s notice, and its correct application rewarded. The interminable quantity of information available can be daunting to the point where one imagines one knows nothing, yet Jeopardy proves that this is simply not the case. An individual’s personal wealth of knowledge has consequence and application in the world. Granted, many of Jeopardy’s contestants will have studied trivia as a hobby and worked for years in order to compete on Jeopardy (some may be card-carrying members of the American National Trivia Association), but this should not detract from the fact that everyone, including the at-home viewers, can just as easily play and discover, remember, reserves of knowledge within themselves.

Given the increasingly interdisciplinary aspect of management, where managers will be required to direct persons from varied backgrounds with diverse interests and skill-sets, managers could take a page from the Jeopardy play-book. Though “managed” individuals may hold positions with a specific job description and strictly-related parameters (as the contestants on Jeopardy do when they aren’t participating on the game show), managers must remember that to restrict the interests and goals of employees and the roles they choose to create for themselves is to stunt a colleague’s potential dismally short (not to mention that of the company or a specific project within). Not all knowledge and experience can be displayed on a resume, and so managers must “recognize how […] personal experiences have been influenced by, and in turn influence, themes common to those broad,m society-wide institutions” (Pence, 2009).

Jeopardy writers and producers accepted the 2012 Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Game/Audience Participation Show.

Jeopardy provides evidence that many people crave a fast-paced environment as long as it is structured, interesting, and interactive. It also helps that the potential payoff is commensurate with a contestant’s abilities. Were the show produced by less conscientious, spirited, and reliable individuals it is unlikely that the program would have reached over 300 episodes. The fact that Jeopardy has reached this milestone speaks to the sheer sum of information that people are able to consider and the sincere interest that people have in remembering what they have learned and sharing it with others.


Azriel, J., Erthal, M., & Starr, E. (2005). Answers, questions, and deceptions: What is the role of games in business education? Journal of Education for Business, 81(1), 9-13. Retrieved from Business Source Complete.

Floyd, J.K. (1994). A discrete analysis of “Final Jeopardy.” Mathematics Teacher, 87(5), 328-331. Retrieved from ProQuest Research Library.

Metrick, A. (1995). A natural experiment in “Jeopardy!” American Economix Review, 85(1), 250-253. Retrieved from Business Source Complete.

Pence, D. (2009). “I’ll take ideology for $200, Alex”: Using the game show Jeopardy to fcailitate sociological and critical thinkings. Teaching Sociology, 37(2), 171-176.

Sony Pictures Digital Inc. (2010). Jeopardy! Did You Know? Retrieved from

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