You know that feeling when you’re watching “Jeopardy!” and someone misses the easiest question? Or when Alex Trebek introduces a category you know like the back of your hand?
“Jeopardy!” has been a part of the game show culture in America for decades. We’ve watched along, maybe even played at home, and have probably had a moment where we’ve realized we might actually have a chance of winning the real thing.
We looked at the last 33 seasons of the show’s run to see how many questions are most likely to be answered correctly, which values are the hardest to win, and which categories have been the most popular (and most difficult to answer) over the years. We even looked at the show’s contestants to see what type of person belongs in the winner’s circle. Think you have what it takes to buzz in the correct response? Continue reading to see what we found.
What is ... "The Correct Answer?"
Have you ever felt a surge of adrenaline watching “Jeopardy!” and just know you know the answer? Even better, when you get it right, and the contestants get it wrong? We looked at the ratio of right-to-wrong answers in “Jeopardy!” over the years to see just how often contestants really know their stuff.
Season eight of "Jeopardy!" with Trebek as the host, which premiered in 1991, had either some of the easiest questions in the show’s history or some of the smartest players. The ratio of right answers to wrong answers in 1996 was more than 4-to-1, a record for the show’s 33 season run. Seasons nine and 10 saw similar success until this ratio declined over the next several seasons and leveled out to roughly 2-to-1. As we see below, this ratio is also influenced by question values and categories.
The Right Answer for $100
Not all “Jeopardy!” questions are created equal, and some have been harder to answer than others over the years. While an average season of “Jeopardy!” has almost twice as many chimes for correct answers as buzzes for wrong ones, this trend becomes clearer when we look at questions by their dollar value.
Over the course of 33 seasons, round one questions valued at $100 had nearly nine correct answers to every wrong answer. This makes it one of the easiest to answer values.
While round one questions worth $1,000 had the lowest likelihood of being answered correctly (almost 1-to-1), questions valued at $500 proved to be the second most difficult. Additionally, categories worth $600 and $800 had a ratio of over 2-to-1 in both rounds, which just goes to show – you never know which question is going to be the one that stumps you.
When it comes to men and women, the rules of “Jeopardy!” don’t change, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they play the same way.
While 86 percent of the answers given by men were correct, women had almost the same score – 85 percent of their answers buzzed in as right. However, when it comes to the final round, they don’t always see eye to eye, and that can be costly.
During the final round, men were more likely to take a bigger gamble on getting the answer right than women were. While women, on average, were willing to bet 29 percent of their total score in the final round, men were willing to bet 42 percent of their winnings. Final Jeopardy can be an all-or-nothing round, and men were more confident about walking away as winners. In fact, their average wager was almost $2,000 more than female contestants.
While this tactic may be risky, it can also pay off. For their final scores, men averaged almost $6,000 more than women.
Trivia Categories to Brush Up On
“Jeopardy!” has been on the air for quite some time, so it’s only reasonable that some categories have been used more than once.
In fact, sports is the most recurring category, appearing in 76 distinct episodes. While brushing up on your science and state capitals can pay off, sometimes the most common categories are the ones you’re least likely to expect.
Potpourri was the second most common “Jeopardy!” category, making an appearance in at least 75 different tapings of the show. Unlike the scented arrangement your in-laws might keep in their guest bathroom, potpourri questions refer to a mixture of multiple topics and can result in categories like “the sexiest potpourri ever.”
While some categories appear more often than others, some are also more likely to be more difficult. The Nobel Prize category can be difficult to win, and almost as difficult to answer. Contestants over the years have gotten questions in this category wrong more often than any other category. Vice presidents and Africa are also commonly missed categories.
Top-Dollar Trivia Gigs
While not all categories of questions are likely to earn you some extra dough, your odds of making it through to the big bucks may be predetermined based on your occupation.
Administrative assistants had the highest average winnings of any occupation over the 33 seasons that we examined. Netting (per appearance) just over a cool $1,600, these clerical organizers make up the winningest professional task force on the show.
Coming in just behind them were software engineers – with all of their math and computer science knowledge – and students, who averaged over $1,500 during their appearances. Considering the variety of topics that most college students encounter during their academic tenure, they can be more poised to strike at common question categories like business and industry or American history … or, of course, television and sports.
Other top winners included bartenders, editors, teachers, and lawyers. Regardless of your profession, there’s no template for the kind of knowledge that can come in handy on “Jeopardy!”.
Most Competitive Trivia States
While we can’t necessarily say these are the smartest states in the country, there’s definitely something in the water when it comes to areas with the highest concentration of “Jeopardy!” contestants.
Massachusetts has a lot going for it – like nearly 80 colleges and universities, including Harvard University, the oldest institution of higher learning in the U.S., and Boston University, with an enrollment of about 30,000 students. With all of those inquiring minds, it’s no shocker the state boasts 6.3 contestants per 100,000 residents.
Maryland, Vermont, Virginia, and New Hampshire also had more than 4.2 contestants each, putting them in the top five for “Jeopardy!” knowledge.
Play to Win
From Potent Potables for $100 to Potpourri for $1,000, some lucky winners have taken home hundreds of thousands of dollars playing “Jeopardy!” While some category values are more likely to help you get the correct response, there are some common question groups you should brush up on in advance to give yourself a fighting chance.
We analyzed J! Archive to find information on contestants that have been on “Jeopardy!” Using the names collected from the site, we were able to determine genders of participants by running their names through genderize.io and Python, and analyzed genders that had at least a 50 percent accuracy. Average score by occupations are based on jobs with at least 40 contestants. Analysis on categories was only done on categories appearing in at least 10 unique episodes. Ratios were found by taking the total number of correct answers and dividing by the total number of wrong questions. Data source is not a complete archive of every question ever asked.
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