Jeopardy! doesn't pay for travel expenses, a policy that a former champion argues severely limits the pool of contestants.
Part of what makes Jeopardy! so popular is the idea that the NBC show is a kind of intellectual meritocracy in which anyone with enough knowledge can become a champ. However, some fans were recently stunned to learn from five-time champ Ben Goldstein that the show effectively excludes anyone without plenty of spare cash. He took to Twitter to discuss how he thinks the show should pay for the travel and lodging of its contestants because it “would make the show more accessible to a wider range of contestants.”
Goldstein was initially responding to a Jeopardy! blog that attempted to justify why the show doesn’t pay for anybody’s travel or lodging expenses. According to the blog, the show started doing this out of a sense of fairness: because some contestants are local and some come from further away, paying for the out-of-towners’ expenses would show a kind of favoritism toward only one group. However, Goldenstein pointed out that this decision is effectively causing more harm than good for both the show and its contestants.
As Goldstein bluntly continued in his tweet, “Not everyone can afford a trip to LA with no guarantee of payback.” The message is clear: whatever motivation Jeopardy! producers had when they originally decided not to pay for travel and lodging expenses, the pendulum has swung the other way. Now, contestants are likelier to be either locals or those who have enough disposable income for these major out-of-pocket expenses, meaning the show is effectively discriminating against those who might be great contestants but can’t afford the trip.
To help underscore his point, Ben Goldstein pointed out that it would cost Jeopardy! producers only about $2,500 per episode to fly two new challengers out and put them in a hotel for two nights. To an insanely successful and long-running network game show, this would not be a major expense. However, as Goldstein stated in another tweet, 57 percent of Americans can’t afford a sudden $1,000 expense, meaning that Jeopardy! requiring first-time contestants to pay for their own travel expenses effectively cuts out more than half the country from participating.
While it’s hard to disagree with Goldstein’s assessment, some Jeopardy! insiders have come forward to say those who finish in second and third place still get to take home $2,000 and $1,000, respectively, which may help to offset travel and lodging costs. And even Goldstein admits that the show starts paying those expenses for winners so they can come back for subsequent tapings, meaning that champions don’t have to bleed money each week to keep competing.
It may not seem likely that Jeopardy! producers will suddenly start paying travel expenses for newcomers, but nobody can deny that doing so would give the show a much-needed PR boost. Recently, fans have been increasingly annoyed with Mayim Bialik as host, and they have been similarly dismayed by controversies such as three contestants getting told their correct answer was wrong over the pronunciation. If the show can’t provide better hosts, better writers, or better judges, it could at least pay the travel costs needed to provide us with a better range of contestants.