Alex Trebek Took the ‘Jeopardy!’ Contestant Test Annually ‘in His Early Years as Host’

While it makes sense that contestants for a quiz show as rigorous as Jeopardy! would be expected to take a test to earn a spot on the program, one wouldn’t think the host would need to, or want to.

But that’s exactly what Alex Trebek did, particularly when he started out on Jeopardy! His reasoning for doing so just makes many fans of the late host admire him even more.

Late 'Jeopardy!' host Alex Trebek
Alex Trebek of ‘Jeopardy!’ | Kris Connor/Getty Images

Trebek said he had to work to make ‘Jeopardy!’ a fan favorite

When Trebek began hosting Jeopardy! in 1984, the show didn’t enjoy the adulation it does today. It may be a pop culture phenomenon now but at that time, it barely registered a blip on television screens, as the Canadian-born personality wrote in his memoir, The Answer Is…

“In the early years of Jeopardy!, in order to help grow the show’s audience I did PR trips around the country,” he wrote. “…Another thing I did to help build the show’s popularity was go on the road for our very first contestant searches. We still do them to this day. The contestant department travels from city to city. They bring a group of hopefuls into a conference room and give them a 50-question test. Then they pick up those tests and go grade them. During that time, the applicants don’t have much to do but wait. So in those early years, I would occasionally come along and surprise the groups and take questions.”

The late host reportedly took the contestant exam on an annual basis

Trebek took his job as host seriously and even tried his hand at the contestant test every year, presumably to keep himself sharp.

As Jeopardy! expert Claire McNear wrote in her book, Answers in the Form of Questions: A Definitive History and Insider’s Guide to ‘Jeopardy!’, his score was impressive.

“In his early years as host, Trebek made a point of taking the test annually himself,” she wrote. “The Los Angeles Times reported that he once got a most respectable 43 out of 50. ‘Every morning when I wake up,’ he told a reporter in the ’80s, ‘I look at my pillow to see if any gray matter has been leached out.'”

McNear also revealed that for a while, the show only filled staff positions with those candidates who were able to pass the intimidating test: “Once, when an ad for an open writer position attracted 1200 résumés, the show invited applicants to take the test in order to narrow the pool. The highest scorer, Kathy Easterling, was hired and ultimately created the show’s (in)famous recurring category, ‘Those Darn Etruscans.'”

How to (potentially) get on Jeopardy!

Now mere mortals hoping to appear on the show can take the Jeopardy! Anytime Test online, as the program’s website states.

“The Jeopardy! Test is an annual event, scheduled for a specific date at an appointed time,” Jeopardy.com explains. “The Anytime Test follows the same format as the Jeopardy! Test, but is available to take whenever it’s convenient. For either the Jeopardy! Test or the Anytime Test, applicants may only submit one qualifying test every 12 months.”

The show provides practice tests for contestant candidates to take online as often as they like and notes that “If you pass the test and meet the minimum eligibility requirements, you will be placed into a random selection process for an invitation to an audition. Assuming you perform well at the audition, you will be placed into the contestant pool and could be invited to compete up to 18 months from your audition date. Making it to an audition is not a guarantee of being invited to compete on the show.”

With those formalities out of the way, good luck to all Jeopardy! contestant candidates.

RELATED: A Look Back at the Life and Career of Alex Trebek