Anatomy of the Game "Jeopardy"

by Derek M. Kwait
Alex Trebek is the face of

Alex Trebek is the face of "Jeopardy!"

Ben Hider/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Since its revival in September 1984, "Jeopardy!" has become a hallmark of American pop culture. Knowledgeable people are told they should go on "Jeopardy!," the "Think" music has become synonymous with decision-making and Alex Trebek is perhaps one of the most recognizable and beloved game show hosts in television history. The show is so ubiquitous, it is often assumed everyone knows its structure, but of course this is not true. "Jeopardy!" may be a game of questions, but there are answers for the stumped.

Basic Setup

Each episode of "Jeopardy!" consists of three players -- the defending champion and two challengers -- and three rounds of play. Each show begins with Alex introducing the contestants, usually by giving their names, hometowns and occupations. After the first commercial break in the middle of the first round, Alex speaks briefly with each contestant to discuss interesting facts about their lives. Perhaps the most distinctive feature of "Jeopardy!" is that all contestant responses must be in the form of a question; in other words, the correct response to "This person is buried in Grant's Tomb," is not "Ulysses S. Grant" but "Who is Ulysses S. Grant?"

Jeopardy and Double Jeopardy Rounds

The first two rounds of play are known as the Jeopardy and Double Jeopardy Rounds, respectively. These rounds consist of five categories of five answers that cover a wide range of knowledge. In the Jeopardy Round, each category has an answer worth $200, $400, $600, $800 and $1,000, and one answer in the round is a Daily Double. In the Double Jeopardy round, each category has an answer worth $400, $800, $1,200, $1,600 and $2,000, and there are two Daily Double answers. A Daily Double allows the contestant to wager any amount of her earnings on the answer.


The defending champion begins the game by telling Alex a category and dollar amount, for example, "I'll take Potpourri for $600, Alex." Alex then reads the answer and whichever contestant buzzes in the fastest gets to respond. If the contestant provides the correct question, she gets that dollar amount; if not, she loses that amount and another contestant can try to respond correctly. Whoever provides the correct question gets to choose the next answer; if no one is correct, whoever chose the answer gets to select again. If a contestant misses a Daily Double, she gets to select again.

Final Jeopardy

The third round of play, called Final Jeopardy, is different from the first two. After the end of Double Jeopardy, Alex announces the Final Jeopardy category, like "U.S. Presidents," then the show cuts to a commercial break. After seeing the category, the contestants wager a certain amount of their money. After wagering, the contestants are shown a single answer. They are then given a certain amount of time to write down their responses, in the form of a question, while the iconic "Think" music plays. When the music runs out, their responses and wagers are shown. Whoever has the most money left at the end of this round wins the game.

About the Author

Derek M. Kwait has a Bachelor of Arts in English writing from the University of Pittsburgh and has been writing for most of his life in various capacities. He has worked as a staff writer and videographer for the "Jewish Chronicle of Pittsburgh" and also has training writing fiction, nonfiction, stage-plays and screenplays.

Photo Credits

  • Ben Hider/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images