‘Jeopardy!’: What Do Contestants Do During the Commercial Break?

Jeopardy! is one of the most popular game shows on television that started airing in 1964. As a result, the production has a very strong understanding of how it should run. The show has its own behind-the-scenes secrets that help the episodes go smoothly. The Jeopardy! team has a specific plan during the commercial break that helps carry the momentum over the course of every episode.

‘Jeopardy!’ films right next door to ‘Wheel of Fortune’

'Jeopardy!' Alex Trebek leading the show before commercial break. He's standing at the podium in a suit with the Double Jeopardy board behind him.
Alex Trebek | Amanda Edwards/Getty Images

According to Claire McNear’s book, Answers in the Form of Questions, she wrote about the experience of joining the game show. Jeopardy! films on the Sony lot where The Wizard of Oz was filmed in the 1930s. The studio lot holds a wide array of fun surprises, but contestants aren’t able to take it all in right away.

Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune share many of the same attributes, including much of their audience base. After all, there’s a reason why they feel like complimentary shows for audiences to watch. The two popular game shows are shot adjacent to one another. They test varying skills with the opportunity to win great prizes. However, Jeopardy! theoretically gives the opportunity for a champion to return week after week for more prizes.

The ‘Jeopardy!’ commercial break sees employees ‘counsel’ contestants

McNear wrote extensively about Jeopardy! producer Maggie Speak, who also had a hand in the commercial break routine. She has since retired, but she certainly left her mark on the long-running show. McNear described her as “fast-talking, razor-sharp, and quick to cut the tension with a laugh,” but also the primary decision-maker. Many contestants, past and present, would call her “Aunt Maggie.”

“On tape days, she and the other members of the contestant department not only read players in on the show but also counsel them during and after their games,” McNear wrote. “When Jeopardy! goes to commercial, a small pack of people can often be seen in the telecast descending on the contestants.”

McNear continued: “Speak is usually among them, and she spends the duration of the break carpet-bombing them with pleasantries to keep them loose and counseling those who may have run into some sort of trouble: ‘You’re a little early on the buzzer,’ maybe, or ‘Try holding it this way,’ or perhaps a plain old, ‘Take a deep breath, hon’—everyone is ‘hon’ to Speak—’You’ve got this.'”

Maggie Speak was the voice of reason for contestants

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The Jeopardy! commercial break allows for multiple parts of production to get the show set up for the next segment. However, it also gave Speak and other crew members time to work with the contestants to ensure that the show is as lively and smooth as possible. Some contestants get panic attacks from all of the stimuli, but Speak was the voice of reason.

McNear pointed to contestant Traci Mack, who competed back in late 2019. She felt confident for all of the time leading up to the show. However, that all changed as soon as she entered the stage to begin the game. Mack had a “full-blown anxiety attack,” but Speak was there to help.

“Maggie came over to me and just hugged me and talked to me about my daughter until I calmed down,” Mack said.