Jeopardy’ vs. ‘Wheel of Fortune’: Which Show Pays Contestants More?

As far as schemes to get rich quick go, appearing on a game show is a pretty good one. It doesn’t involve a lot of risk — except maybe to your ego — and even if you walk away empty-handed, you’ll probably have some fun along the way. Two of the game show world’s longest-running and most beloved series offer participants the opportunity to earn a lot of cash, and both are based on intelligence, skill, and a not-insignificant dose of luck. 

What show has the bigger payout for would-be winners: Jeopardy or Wheel of Fortune

Vanna White smiling next to the Wheel of Fortune letterboard
Vanna White | Eric McCandless/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

‘Wheel of Fortune’ is largely luck 

Wheel of Fortune has been on the air forever in game-show time. Television legend Merv Griffin came up with the concept and launched the show in 1975, according to History. Hosts Pat Sajak and Vanna White have been on the program for almost its entire run, making them highly recognizable and beloved by contestants and viewers alike. 

Griffin conceived of the show as a combination of hangman and roulette. Participants spin a giant wheel — perhaps the most iconic part of the game – to determine the cash value of their next correct guess. To keep things even more competitive, the wheel is also packed with misfortunes and extra prizes. Once a participant has spun to determine the potential value, they get to guess a letter in a shared fill-in-the-blank puzzle, earning the dollar amount on the wheel for each letter that appears. 

Contestants can also choose to solve the puzzle, which shores up their current winnings but also puts an end to the earnings for that particular round. In this way, the game is a combination of chance, skill, and calculated risk-taking. 

‘Jeopardy’ is a long-running staple

RELATED: ‘Jeopardy!’ vs. ‘Wheel of Fortune’: Which Show Is More Difficult?

Fans have been playing along with the smartest game show around since 1964. That’s when Jeopardy originally aired. It lasted until 1973. In 1984, Merv Griffin decided to reboot the trivia classic, and he carefully selected Alex Trebek to be the face of the show. That iconic decision would turn out to be a great one as Trebek has now become pretty much synonymous with the game itself. 

Participants compete to be the fastest to answer trivia questions, which are chosen from a board broken into categories with varying degrees of difficulty. The harder questions are worth more money, but contestants lose cash when they answer incorrectly. The show also has a famous format of having to respond with a question since the clues on the board are technically the “answers.” 

Contestants on the show are in for a jam-packed day of excitement as the series is filmed only 46 days a year with five episodes filmed for each day. Returning champions and Trebek himself undergo outfit changes to create the illusion of time passing, but someone who is really successful could end up playing back-to-back-to-back games in a single day.

That may sound stressful, but the show really does try to set its brainy participants up for success. First, there’s a fairly high bar for entry. It requires skill to prove yourself worthy of holding that buzzer. Second, the participants get to practice before the real thing, and former contestants have revealed that the practices are designed to build confidence and are quite fun. 

Which show earns more prize money?

The consensus is pretty strong that Jeopardy! is the more difficult of the two shows. The sheer amount of knowledge participants must have in so many categories is staggering. The head-to-head competition aspect of having to beat the other contestants to the buzzer also ups the ante in a way that the turn-taking frame of Wheel of Fortune simply doesn’t touch. 

Is that added difficulty rewarded with more valuable prizes? Wheel of Fortune probably has flashier prizes. There have been $1 million prize winners on the puzzle-solving game, but that’s definitely an exceptional win that doesn’t represent the average. The top winners on Jeopardy! have blown that figure out of the water with James Holzhauer managing to secure a whopping $2.5 million during his record-breaking run, according to Vox.

Of course, most participants walk away from both shows with far less than the record-setting amounts. Jeopardy! contestants average about $20,000, which might not sound impressive next to $2.5 million, but it is certainly more than the few thousand in cash and prizes that many have at the end of Wheel of Fortune. All in all, Jeopardy! is the hardest game, but it also has the biggest potential payoff.