15 Brainy Secrets of Jeopardy! Winners

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Millions of people watch Jeopardy! religiously—the game show has been popular since it first aired in 1964. But even if you never miss an episode, there’s a lot you might not know about what the winners do behind the scenes. We talked to a few previous Jeopardy! winners about betting on Daily Doubles, learning how to time the buzzer, and surviving awkward small talk with Alex Trebek.

1. THEY DON’T GET MUCH TIME TO REST.

Because of Jeopardy!’s tight filming schedule—five 30-minute shows are taped in a row, with minimal breaks—winners don’t have much time to bask in victory after conquering their competitors. “You only have about 10 minutes between winning your first show and appearing in your second,” explains Jelisa Castrodale, who won a 2010 episode. Castrodale tells mental_floss that winners are taken backstage to change clothes and get makeup reapplied, then they begin taping the next game.

“When I won, I honestly almost passed out from the shock of it (I had just beaten a seemingly unstoppable six-time champion) and was still so unsteady afterwards that I swear I almost had to ask a member of the production crew to double-check the spelling of my name for me when I wrote it down again,” Castrodale says.

2. SOME OF THEM SPEND YEARS PREPARING FOR THE SHOW.

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Some contestants spend years studying before they even try to qualify. After passing an online test, aspiring contestants are invited to an in-person audition. If they do well, they may be invited to appear on the show. In the interim, some winners prepare by watching Jeopardy! each night and making flashcards to memorize facts about everything from U.S. presidents and state capitals to ancient Greek gods and Shakespeare’s plays. Others study J-Archive, a fan-created database of prior clues, answers, and contestants.

3. IT'S ALL ABOUT TIMING THE BUZZER.

 

Even if a contestant knows the answer to every question, that knowledge won’t do them any good unless they press their buzzer at precisely the right time. “So much of the game comes down to buzzer speed and skill. I think that's hard to appreciate unless you're actually on the show,” David Walter, the winner of Jeopardy!’s 2007 Teen Tournament, explains. Contestants must buzz in as soon as Trebek finishes the question, when lights flash on the side of the game board. “Buzz in too early, and you’re locked out of ringing in again for a crucial split-second. Buzz in too late ... and, well, you’re too late,” Walter says. Because timing the buzzer is a crucial part of winning the game, prior winners have written in-depth articles offering advice on how to master it with proper thumb placement and hand position.

4. IF YOU’RE ON A WINNING STREAK, IT HELPS TO BE AN INTERESTING PERSON.

Whether you love or hate the show’s small talk segment, in which Trebek spends a few seconds chatting with each contestant, Jeopardy! winners need to have a new, interesting anecdote to share for each game they play. "Coming up with ideas for that portion of the show is probably the hardest thing about being on the show,” Julia Collins, who won 20 shows in 2014, revealed in a Reddit Q & A. One month before taping, coordinators for the show send potential questions to contestants to determine interesting facts about them. On show day, Trebek chooses which fact to ask them about for the segment, which airs after each episode’s first commercial break.

5. THEY’RE COMFORTABLE WITH BETTING.

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Whether they bet all their money on Daily Doubles and Final Jeopardy! or are more cautious, winners need to be okay with wagering large sums of cash. Because making smart bets can mean the difference between winning and losing, some contestants approach the game with a math script, knowing how they’ll bet no matter what happens in the game. “Because I had this scripted play, I wasn't making the big decisions, I was just doing the math. I knew what the play was supposed to be … Other people were still making the decision. I think a lot of times, it made people think I was more confident in the category than I was,” Jeopardy! champion Arthur Chu told mental_floss in 2014.

6. THEY REHEARSE IN REALISTIC CONDITIONS.

Walter attributes his win to practicing with a mock buzzer for a few months before the taping: “I would stand up in front of the TV with a pen in my hand to simulate the buzzer. That got me used to the rhythms and speed of Trebek’s speaking voice, and made me less nervous around the buzzer during my actual tapings.” Other winners have practiced by shining a bright light in their faces (to simulate TV studio lights) and playing along with a group of friends watching, to mimic the added pressure that an audience brings.

7. THEY DON’T ACT LIKE TYPICAL GAME SHOW WINNERS.

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Contestants on game shows such as The Price Is Right and Wheel of Fortune are demonstrative: they often jump, shout, and clap when they win. “The contestant coordinators at Jeopardy! want enthusiasm, but they know they’re hand-picking the nation’s smartest academics, tech geeks, and librarians ... generally introverts, in other words. So they lower their expectations and just ask winners for big smiles,” Jeopardy! superstar Ken Jennings (of the mental_floss Kennections quiz) explains.

But some contestants struggle to find the right balance between showing too much emotion and not showing enough. After Josh Hager won an episode in 2014, the show’s producers came over to him once the episode had wrapped and told him not to be afraid to show his winning smile. “Apparently my endeavor to stay composed was too successful and they wanted just a little more emotion,” Hager says.

8. SOMETIMES THERE IS NO WINNER.

Although one of the three contestants in each episode almost always wins, several episodes have ended with no winner. Most recently, in January 2016, all three contestants answered incorrectly in the final round, losing all the money they had earned during the first two rounds. Because there was no winner, the next episode—with no returning champion—introduced three new players.

9. THEY HAVE TO KEEP QUIET UNTIL THEIR EPISODE AIRS.

Most episodes don’t air until several months after they’re taped. This lag time means that winners need to stay quiet about how they performed, and it can force repeat winners to habitually lie to their coworkers, family, and friends. In 2004, Jennings taped 48 shows before his first episode aired, so he had to keep his commute (every few weeks) from his home in Utah to Los Angeles a secret. “My boss told my co-workers a series of increasingly implausible lies about my whereabouts every other Tuesday and Wednesday. You think computer programmers are all geniuses? No one ever caught on,” Jennings writes on his website.

10. THEY DON’T GET PAID FOR A WHILE.

After patiently waiting for their first episode to air, winners must also wait months after their show’s air date for their prize money. And yes, they have to pay taxes on their winnings. Hager reveals to mental_floss that he got paid about six months after his episode aired. And although he won $27,100, he netted approximately $20,000 after federal tax, California tax (where the show is taped), and North Carolina tax (where he lives).

11. SOME OF THEM CAN BUY A HOUSE WITH THEIR PRIZE MONEY.

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Big winners can earn tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, which may allow them to pay off student loans, put a down payment on a house, or travel abroad. Even winners of more modest amounts can benefit from the extra cash, putting it toward a family vacation or college fund for kids. Hager, for example, used his prize money to pay off almost all of his student loans, and he and his wife moved out of their studio apartment into a spacious house. “Jeopardy! really did change my life and I can't be more grateful,” he says.

12. FEEDBACK FROM JEOPARDY! FANS CAN BE MIXED.

Thanks to social media, winners face public scrutiny over everything from their appearance to the questions they answer incorrectly. Many internet commenters criticized recent winner Buzzy Cohen for his seemingly smug attitude and flippant responses in Final Jeopardy!, while others liked his sense of humor. Although some winners face a stream of harsh words on Twitter, they may also receive praise. “Lots of people on the internet compared me to Fred Armisen, which I take as a compliment,” Sam Deutsch, the winner of Jeopardy!’s 2016 College Championship, tells mental_floss.

13. WINNING THE SHOW PROVIDES LIFELONG PERKS.

Some winners include their Jeopardy! win on their resumes and LinkedIn profiles, hoping it will make them stand out to potential bosses and colleagues. After winning the show 74 times in a row, Jennings published a series of books, read a Top Ten list for David Letterman, and appeared on Sesame Street. “But the most gratifying thing lately has probably been the letters I get from kids … They all seem so smart! I'm doing my part for the nerd-ification of America’s youth,” he says.

14. WATCHING THE SHOW MAY STRESS THEM OUT.

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Chu says that while he was studying for the show, his life centered on watching and reading about Jeopardy! to the detriment of his other activities. But after winning, he stopped watching the show to give himself a mental break. And Jennings admits that winning so many episodes has changed his reaction to seeing it on TV. “I find that I have a hard time sitting on my couch and lazily shouting out answers at Trebek, like I used to. Everything about the show—the music, the graphics, the sound effects—causes some fight-or-flight adrenaline spike in my blood and I become hyper-aware of every detail of the show. Maybe I have post-traumatic stress disorder,” he says.

15. THEY CAN’T ESCAPE THE CATCHY THEME SONG.

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According to Terry O’Shea, who won first place on the show's 2014 College Championship, winners can’t escape the show’s instantly recognizable theme song. “When you go on Jeopardy!, people WILL taunt you with the theme song. It's an unavoidable fact of life. If you do well enough, this will persist for several years afterward,” O’Shea explains. After appearing on the show, other winners face unrealistically high expectations about possessing encyclopedic knowledge. “I always watch [the show] with my friends, and they love teasing me when they know something I don’t,” Deutsch admits.

The 25 Happiest Cities in America

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Carlo Allegri/Getty Images

Even if you love your job, your home, and the people in your life, it's hard to be truly happy if you can't stand where you live. Your geographic location can have a significant bearing of many parts of your life, including your income potential, your health, and the activities you do outside of work. To see which city has the happiest citizens, WalletHub crunched some numbers.

The personal finance site looked at a number of different metrics, with categories including community and environment, income and employment, and emotional and physical well-being, to determine the happiest cities in the U.S. Pulling from published psychology research, WalletHub found that Plano, Texas is the happiest of the 182 cities that were analyzed. It's followed by Irvine, California; Madison, Wisconsin; Fremont, California; and Huntington Beach, California. Cities in sunny California show up frequently on the list, with 14 cities from the state making the top 50.

You can check out the top 25 below, along with an interactive map of all the cities. And if you're not interested in city life, here's a list of America's happiest states.

Source: WalletHub
  1. Plano, Texas

  1. Irvine, California

  1. Madison, Wisconsin

  1. Fremont, California

  1. Huntington Beach, California

  1. Fargo, North Dakota

  1. Grand Prairie, Texas

  1. San Jose, California

  1. Scottsdale, Arizona

  1. San Francisco, California

  1. Bismarck, North Dakota

  1. Overland Park, Kansas

  1. Santa Rosa, California

  1. Austin, Texas

  1. Sioux Falls, South Dakota

  1. Pearl City, Hawaii

  1. Glendale, California

  1. San Diego, California

  1. St. Paul, Minnesota

  1. Charleston, South Carolina

  1. Gilbert, Arizona

  1. Anaheim, California

  1. Raleigh, North Carolina

  1. Cape Coral, Florida

  1. Cedar Rapids, Iowa

10 Clever Moments of TV Foreshadowing You Might Have Missed

Gene Page, AMC
Gene Page, AMC

Spoiler alert! Sometimes TV shows shock their audiences with mind-blowing twists and surprises, but the writers are often clever enough to foreshadow these events with very subtle references. Here are 10 of them.

**Many spoilers ahead.**

1. The Walking Dead

During season five of The Walking Dead, Glenn (Steven Yeun) picks up a baseball bat a few times in the Alexandria Safe-Zone. He was also almost killed by one at Terminus at the beginning of the season. Two seasons later, Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) brutally kills Glenn with his barbed-wire baseball bat (a.k.a. Lucille) during the season seven premiere.

2. Breaking Bad

In Breaking Bad's second season finale, a Boeing 737 crashes over Albuquerque, New Mexico. While the event was hinted at throughout the season during the black-and-white teasers at the beginning of each episode, the titles of certain episodes predicted the crash altogether. The titles “Seven Thirty-Seven,” “Down,” “Over,” and “ABQ” spell out the phrase “737 Down Over ABQ,” which is the airport code for the Albuquerque International Sunport.

3. Game Of Thrones

In “The Mountain and the Viper,” a season 4 episode of Game of Thrones, Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish (Aidan Gillen) tells his stepson, Robin Arryn (Lino Facioli), “People die at their dinner tables. They die in their beds. They die squatting over their chamber pots. Everybody dies sooner or later. And don’t worry about your death. Worry about your life. Take charge of your life for as long as it lasts.”

Throughout that same season, viewers see King Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson) die at a dinner table during his wedding and watch Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) strangle his former lover, Shae (Sibel Kekilli), in bed, before killing his father, Tywin (Charles Dance), while he’s sitting on a toilet.

4. Arrested Development

Throughout seasons 1 and 2 of Arrested Development, there are a number of references that foretell Buster Bluth (Tony Hale) losing his hand. In “Out on a Limb,” Buster is sitting on a bus stop bench with an ad for Army Officers, but the way he’s sitting hides most of the ad, so it reads “Arm Off” instead. Earlier in season 2, Buster says “Wow, I never thought I’d miss a hand so much,” when he sees his long lost hand-shaped chair in his housekeeper’s home.

5. Buffy The Vampire Slayer

In season 4 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Willow (Alyson Hannigan) comes out as gay and begins a relationship with Tara (Amber Benson). However, in the episode “Doppelgangland” in season 3, a vampire version of Willow appears after a spell is accidentally cast. After Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Angel (David Boreanaz) capture the vampire Willow, the real Willow takes a look at her vampire-self and comments, "That's me as a vampire? I'm so evil and skanky. And I think I'm kinda gay!"

6. Futurama

In the very first episode of Futurama, "Space Pilot 3000," Fry (Billy West) is accidentally frozen and wakes up 1000 years later. Just before he falls into the cryotube, in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment, you can see a small shadowy figure under a desk in the Applied Cryogenics office. In the season four episode “The Why of Fry,” it was revealed that Nibbler (Frank Welker) was hiding in the shadows. He planned to freeze Fry in the past, so that he could save the universe in the future. According to co-creator Matt Groening, “What we tried to do is we tried to lay in a lot of little secrets in this episode that would pay off later.”

7. American Horror Story: Coven

American Horror Story: Coven follows a coven of witches in Salem, Massachusetts. When Fiona (Jessica Lange), the leader of the witches, is stricken with cancer, she believes a new witch who can wield the Seven Powers will come and take her place. Fiona then begins to kill every witch she believes will take her place until the new Supreme reveals herself.

During the opening credits of each episode in season 3, Sarah Paulson’s title card appears with the Mexican female deity Santa Muerte (Holy Death), the Lady of the Seven Wonders. And as it turned out, Paulson’s character, Cordelia, became the new Supreme witch at the end of the season.

8. Mad Men

At the end of Mad Men's fifth season, ad agency partner Lane Pryce (Jared Harris) committed suicide by hanging himself in his office. While it was a shock to the audience, the show's writers hinted at his death throughout the entire season.

In the season 5 premiere, Lane jokes "I'll be here for the rest of my life!" while he’s on the telephone in his office. Later, in episode five, Don Draper doodles a noose during a meeting, while Lane wears a scarf around his neck in a bar to support his soccer club. Early in episode 12, Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) mentions that the agency’s life insurance policy still pays out, even in the event of a suicide.

9. How I Met Your Mother

In How I Met Your Mother's season 6 episode, “Bad News,” Marshall (Jason Segel) and Lily (Alyson Hannigan) are waiting for test results that will tell them whether or not they can have children. While we’re led to believe the title of the episode reflects their test results, it actually refers to the news that Marshall’s father, Marvin Eriksen Sr. (Bill Fagerbakke), had passed away after suffering a heart attack.

Keen-eyed viewers knew this news already because the writers of How I Met Your Mother foreshadowed the death two seasons earlier in the episode “The Fight.” At the beginning of the episode, Marshall said that lightsaber technology is real and will be on the market in about three to five years from now. By the end of the episode, a flash forward reveals what Thanksgiving looks like at the Eriksen family’s home in Minnesota; Marshall’s father is not shown or referenced during the holiday meal.

10. True Detective

During season 1 of True Detective, detectives Rust Cohle and Marty Hart are trying to solve a murder investigation, as they try to identify the mysterious “Yellow King.” The color yellow is used when the detectives are on the right track, but the detectives already met the killer in episode three, "The Locked Room."

When the pair went to the Light of the Way Academy, posted on the school’s sign was a very clever hidden message that read “Notice King,” which pointed to the school's groundskeeper as the killer.

This article has been updated for 2019.

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