‘Jeopardy!’: Why Some Contestants Make Such Bizarre Wagers During the ‘Final Jeopardy!’ Question

The dinnertime show Jeopardy! has become one of television’s most popular (and longest-running) game shows to date. Host Alex Trebek has remained on the job since the 1980s, and he’s seen his share of interesting contestants — and interesting Final Jeopardy! wagers. As viewers, it’s not always easy to tell what goes through a person’s mind when they make their wager, but there most often is some kind of method.

'Jeopardy' host Alex Trebek with record-holder Ken Jennings
‘Jeopardy’ host Alex Trebek with record-holder Ken Jennings | Jeopardy Productions/Getty Images

It’s not easy to be a ‘Jeopardy!’ contestant

We’ve all watched Jeopardy! at some point and thought, “I could totally be on this show.” But the truth is, it’s a long, complicated journey to actually be selected as a contestant. Potential contestants must take a knowledge test, then, if they get a certain number of answers correct, they are randomly selected for an invitation to audition. If everything goes well, they can appear on the show, but it’s sometimes months between the initial test and episode filming. 

The Final Jeopardy! question is meant to give contestants a chance to come back 

Throughout the competition, contestants answer questions worth a certain point value. At the end of two rounds (or when time runs out), contestants are given a Final Jeopardy! question, where they have the opportunity to wager a certain amount of their earnings for a chance at either making a last-minute comeback, extending the lead and taking home more money, or, for some who are in the lead, playing it safe and remaining where they are.

The question category is given before the commercial break. Afterward, contestants receive a question and have one minute to submit their answer. If they answer correctly, they earn the money they wagered. If they don’t, they lose the money.

Jeopardy!
Final Jeopardy! allows contestants to make a quick comeback. | Scott Wintrow/Getty Images

Most contestants do their homework before making their final wager

Fans of the show might have realized by now that some of the Final Jeopardy! wagers seem completely out of left field. Usually, though, they’re not. Although some wagers make sense, others (usually the ones for very specific dollar amounts), are hard to understand. But contestants don’t simply pick a number out of the clouds, though it seems like that from time to time.

According to Brain Sharper, some contestants go to great lengths to understand how to make the best wager. Some practice intense mathematical equations to quickly know how much to wager, while others take to studying game theory before their competition.

This could explain how James Holzhauer won so much money during his run

James Holzhauer, one of the winningest contestants to ever appear on the show, consistently took home monetary winnings of more than $75,000. In five total games, he earned a six-figure grand prize. Though Holzhauer was certainly hard to beat during the competition rounds, his ability to understand how to properly wager gave him a leg up in terms of taking home so much money. Holzhauer is a professional gambler, so he’s well-versed in game theory and understands odds.