"Jeopardy!" Starts Filming in Days, But Contestants Refuse to Compete
Competitors from Season 37 and Season 38 won't return to the show during the writers' strike.
Jeopardy! is facing serious backlash for moving forward with filming its upcoming season amid the ongoing Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike. While Sony Pictures Entertainment confirmed in July that the show would use recycled questions—without striking writers available to draft new ones—producers dropped another bombshell this week when they shared that they're also planning to feature former contestants at the start of Season 40. But with filming set to begin in just five days, it's still unclear who will be reappearing on the Alex Trebek Stage, as several previous Jeopardy! contestants are refusing to return. Read on to find out more about the growing Jeopardy! boycott.
Producers explained the plan for Season 40 during a recent podcast episode.
On the Aug. 7 episode of the Inside Jeopardy! podcast, executive producer Michael Davies shed more light on the game show's plans, with the Season 40 premiere set for Sept. 11.
Davies said that the show is in a "holding pattern" (the 2023 Tournament of Champions [ToC] has been delayed until the strike is resolved), adding that "the best episodes that are possible are episodes that feature our writers writing original material, and the very best contestants … playing that original material."
For now, material will be comprised of WGA questions written before the strike that are "still in the database," and material "that is being deployed from multiple, multiple seasons of the show."
Davies continued by saying that "it would not be fair" to have new contestants play with reused questions, which is what prompted production to invite former contestants from Season 37—those who didn't win their first game—to compete in a Second Chance tournament. From there, winners will advance to a Season 37 and Season 38 Champions Wild Card.
Offering Season 37 players the same opportunity should be exciting, since Jeopardy! rules generally prohibit players who have lost from competing on the syndicated show a second time. And Season 38 players invited to the Champions Wildcard—which is open to players who won a few games but not enough to qualify for the ToC—should feel equally enthusiastic about another chance at glory.
However, these competitors are now struggling to decide whether or not they would be crossing a picket line by accepting the offer.
Contestants were initially shocked and excited about the offer.
Five contestants who were contacted to fill spots in the upcoming tournaments spoke anonymously with Polygon about the offer.
"When I got a call gauging my interest in participating, my initial reaction was pure shock, because I'd given up any fantasies about being invited back," one Season 38 champ told the outlet. "But once that initial shock wore off, it was replaced by the dread of having to make an impossible decision."
Another former player also recognized that the opportunity to compete again would be especially liberating for those on Season 37, which was filmed during the COVID pandemic.
"The idea that I get to go back and do this again? And this time without the strict COVID regulations? Someone would actually do my hair and makeup? I could take a picture standing next to the host? And even better—I would be in a tournament?!? I've heard such amazing stories of the tournament experience (win or lose) and I was so excited to be a part of that," she told Polygon in an email. "My brain was just reeling at this new opportunity that I never thought I would have."
But still, she declined to participate with the WGA strike ongoing, with a contestant coordinator confirming to her that they had received similar responses from other potential players. Devin Rossiter, a two-game winner from Season 38, publicly alluded to the fact that he was one of the past contestants who declined.
"Today feels like the kind of day where a LOT of people had their principles tested whether they were ready for it or not," he tweeted on Aug. 7. "I'm grateful to be connected to so many strong people and friends to help make sure I stood by mine."
They expressed frustration with Sony.
Several of the contestants told Polygon that they're frustrated they even have to make the call, forced to choose between their desire to play the beloved game show once more and standing in solidarity with the WGA. One player even went so far as to tell Polygon it was a "betrayal."
"I am so angry at the show and Sony leadership for doing this," the Season 37 player said, adding that invitations were sent out before the Inside Jeopardy! episode aired, and pointing out that the ToC and other tournaments are delayed "but somehow it's okay to invite season 37/38 players?"
Another Season 38 champion said the situation is "honestly souring my opinion of Jeopardy! for putting us in this position," explaining that they weren't sure if the right call is to play and donate their winnings, or to decline and potentially give a spot to someone "who doesn't care about the strike at all." (They later told Polygon that they ended up turning down the offer.)
Players realize the situation is tricky, and two Season 38 champs said that while they're financially secure enough that they don't need to compete, they understand why some players would take the opportunity to seek the prize money. Others said that they are truly plagued by the weight of the decision, with one of the Season 38 champions noting that it "makes me wish I'd never gotten the invitation at all."
Some are holding out hope for a resolution, but they might be waiting a while.
Speaking with Polygon, one contestant said that he was asked back, but requested that the coordinator schedule him later in the year so that his game hopefully arrives after the strike's resolution. (He noted that if he had to decide to participate now, his answer would be no.)
However, there's no clear answer as to how long the strike will continue—and even though filming is slated for Aug. 15 (with tickets for the initial shows already sold out), Jeopardy! still hasn't confirmed who will be hosting.
Mayim Bialik stepped down from hosting the final week of Season 39 to stand in solidarity with the WGA, and Ken Jennings has received pushback for his decision to take over. Both are members of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), which is also on strike.
However, in a statement to Polygon, a WGA spokesperson stated that anyone who decides to appear on the show will be crossing a picket line.
"Jeopardy! is produced by a struck company," the spokesperson said. "Anyone participating in a Jeopardy production would be crossing a picket line comprised of Jeopardy writers who wrote the clues."
Best Life reached out to the WGA for comment, and will update the story upon hearing back.