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January 17, 2018

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Knowledge isn’t always enough with ‘Jeopardy!’


Mona Shield Payne

With humor, Maggie Speak guides wannabe contestants through the course of the day during auditions for “Jeopardy!” at the Venetian in Las Vegas on Monday, June 23, 2014.

‘Jeopardy!’ Auditions

In hopes of being the next Jeopardy champion, 20 wannabe contestants from different parts of the United States make their way toward the quiz show Jeopardy auditions at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, Monday, June 23, 2014. Launch slideshow »


Nevada’s ranking for gun deaths. The state average is 40 percent higher than the national average.

What does it take to be a contestant on “Jeopardy!”? More than just smarts. Personality and luck help, too.

Sixty trivia junkies found that out when they gathered June 23 at the Venetian to face their final hurdle toward a spot on the TV game show.

Three groups of 20 potential contestants gathered in a casino conference room to complete a 50-question written quiz, play a brief simulation of the television game and share a bit about their interests and backgrounds.

The participants already had beaten tough odds to get this far. “Jeopardy!” estimates that about 125,000 people complete its initial online test each year, but only about 3,000 are chosen to move on. Of those, only about 400 people make it onto the show.

The first group consisted mostly of residents from states such as Colorado and Arizona. This phase of the competition is offered only in a few cities, so those who make it often have to travel.

Would you make the cut?

Here are some sample questions from See how many you can answer, and check online to find out when the next test registration will take place (scroll down for answers).

1. POSTAL ABBREVIATIONS: This Midwest state is the only one whose 2-letter postal abbreviation is a preposition.

2. CROSSWORD CLUES “P”: Attorney-Client Benefit (9 letters)

3. RHYME TIME: Just one radio advertising song

4. THE MOON: Latin term for the moon’s “seas”; the largest is about 750 miles wide

5. ICE CREAM: This flavor was invented in 1929 & named in part to reflect the difficult economic times ahead

6. MYTHOLOGY: He occupied a chair over which the “Sword Of” him was suspended by a single thread

Robin Carpenter, a librarian at Carroll M. Johnston Middle School, was the lone Las Vegan in the group. It wasn’t the first time she got this far in the process.

Carpenter said she auditioned once about 10 years ago. Though she reached the same point then, she didn’t make the final cut. Since then, she has filled out many of the online tests in the hopes of getting another chance.

This time around, Carpenter was confident after the written quiz. She said there were only one or two questions where she “totally had no clue.”

“I don’t study stuff — I just read a lot,” she said. “Some of the more contemporary things I don’t necessarily know but I hear about because I have a teenager, so that helps a little bit. I think if you’re kind of a well-rounded person, you can get lots of information.”

Per “Jeopardy!” style, participants had only a few seconds to prove their mastery over trivia during the written quiz, which covered topics such as 20th century art history and pop culture.

During the simulated game, the contestants-to-be demonstrated their depth of knowledge in similar areas but competed against one another in groups of three.

Accuracy and efficiency were important, but Promotions Director Grant Loud said show executives look for people who are more than just knowledgeable — personality is important, too.

That’s where Producer Maggie Speak’s questions came in.

Channeling “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek, Speak asked all of the contestants how they would spend their winnings.

Like many, Carpenter said she’d put some of the money toward traveling — to Iceland, perhaps. Others talked about giving back to their parents or returning to school.

Phoenix resident Joan Simmons said she would put some of her winnings toward her upcoming wedding. Simmons, who works in marketing communications, is getting married at the Venetian in October.

Simmons had another reason for wanting to make the cut. Growing up, she said, she used to play trivia games with her father, who has since passed away.

“I always told him, ‘I’m gonna make it on ‘Jeopardy!’ one day!” she said. “That would be really special to me if I could do that.”

Even if the women are selected, they still might have to wait a while to make it to the soundstage. Passing the screening puts contestants into a pool of possible guests for the show. They could be selected during the next 18 months — or not. If they aren’t chosen, they can try again, starting with the online test.

Carpenter is willing to wait, or start over if need be.

“Why not?” she asked. “It’s worth it if you can get on.”

“Jeopardy!” officials said there haven’t been any major champions from Las Vegas, but a few local players have won a game or two.

Questions to sample answers:

1. What is Indiana?

2. What is privilege?

3. What is a single jingle?

4. What are Maria? (Acceptable: Mare)

5. What is Rocky Road?

6. Who is Damocles?

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