‘Jeopardy!’ Contestants Say Making Small Talk Is Much Harder Than It Looks

Jeopardy! is a game show all about trivia but it’s the small talk segment that often gives contestants pause. A hallmark of every Jeopardy! game, host Alex Trebek chats with each player following the first commercial break. 

Alex Trebek stands behind a podium on the set of 'Jeopardy!'
Alex Trebek on the set of ‘Jeopardy!’ | Amanda Edwards/Getty Images

Contestants have to answer questions about themselves before going on ‘Jeopardy!’

Studying up on trivia isn’t the only thing contestants have to do before appearing on the game show. Before they even step foot on the Jeopardy! stage, contestants devote some time to answering open-ended questions about themselves. 

According to Mental Floss, coordinators for the show start pumping contestants for entertaining anecdotes a month before showing up to tape an episode. 

“We send them a huge package of documentation via email. Included is an info sheet that asks them to list five interesting facts about themselves,” Corina Nusu, a senior contestant coordinator with the show, said. 

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Contestants also receive a list of up to 32 questions to answer about themselves. Although Nusu notes contestants aren’t required to answer every single one. 

On tape day, Nusu speaks with contestants again and presses them for more interesting facts or stories. 

Alex Trebek steers the conversation during the small talk segment

Just because contestants answer questions about themselves ahead of time, doesn’t mean it will be brought up. 

Ultimately, it’s up to Trebek as the Jeopardy! host to steer the conversation. Which means he can ask whatever questions he wants. Because of that, contestants have to be ready for anything. And that can be especially hard standing under the glare of the game show’s lights. 

‘Jeopardy!’ champion Arthur Chu says ‘having to think of something on the fly’ is really hard 

Players might make answering trivia questions and chatting it up with Trebek look easy when they consider it very challenging. 

Arthur Chu, who won 11 games of Jeopardy! in 2014, says small talk isn’t easy. After his winning streak ended, Chu talked about how he faced a challenge upon finding out Jeopardy! doesn’t allow anecdotes about cats

“That threw out a lot of my stories,” he said. 

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So he had to come up with new things to talk discuss. And as he said, it’s hard to do after being mentally drained by the game. 

“Having to think of something on the fly, something interesting to say while you just won a game of Jeopardy! and you’re soaked in sweat and you’re ready to go out there and try to win another game—that is one of the most difficult things you can do on the show,” Chu said. 

‘Jeopardy!’ champion Julia Collins calls small talk segment ‘the hardest thing about being on the show’

Winning 20 games of Jeopardy! in 2014, Julia Collins dominated the quiz board. But what she considers to be the most difficult part of the competition is the small talk. 

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Winning a high number of games, Collins had to come up with a lot of interesting facts about herself. In a Reddit Q&A after her winning streak ended, Collins opened up about the challenges of the show.

“Coming up with ideas for that portion of the show is probably the hardest thing about being on the show,” she said. 

Like Chu, Collins had to adhere to certain restrictions so viewers at home wouldn’t see contestants discuss the same topics. Collins couldn’t talk about a piece of jewelry because a previous contestant had done so recently.

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