(NEXSTAR) — Ken Jennings. Brad Rutter. James Holzhauer. They’re all record-setting “Jeopardy!’ champions, but none have even come close to earning the maximum potential dollar amount a “Jeopardy!” contestant can theoretically win in a single game.
It’s unlikely that anyone would ever come significantly closer, though. At least not based on the current structure of the quiz show’s gameplay.
As it stands, the largest payday ever awarded during a single game of “Jeopardy!” (outside of a tournament) is $131,127, a hefty prize amount won by James Holzhauer in April 2019. In fact, Holtzhauer holds the top 12 spots for single-day winnings, all earned during his 32-game streak during the spring of 2019, according to the official “Jeopardy!” leaderboard.
Holzhauer was able to maximize his winnings by placing large wagers during Daily Doubles and Final Jeopardy. But even a skilled player like himself would need an absurd amount of luck (and more than a touch of hubris) to win the maximum theoretical prize amount, which totals more than a half-million dollars.
To earn that amount — $566,400, to be exact — a contestant would have to play a “perfect game,” which means correctly responding to every single clue, betting the maximum available amount on Daily Doubles, and then risking it all during the Final Jeopardy! round.
But there are other variables that would make the $566,400 prize a near impossibility, including one that the contestant can’t control — no matter how smart, calculating, or quick on the buzzer.
In addition to buzzing in with every correct response and betting it all at every possible chance, a player would (somehow) need to leave the Daily Doubles for the end of each round. Additionally, the show’s writers would have needed to hide those Daily Doubles under the lowest dollar amounts, to give the contestant the best possible chance of earning as much money from the other clues before the Daily Doubles are found.
In the first round, for instance, a contestant could earn a possible $17,800 from all the clues on the board before finding the Daily Double under the last $200 clue. If the contestant goes for a “true” Daily Double, their winnings after the first round could total $35,600.
During Double Jeopardy!, where the dollar amounts are doubled and there are two Daily Double clues, a contestant could add a possible $35,200 to their score (for a total of $70,800), but, again, only if the last two Daily Doubles are uncovered under the round’s lowest-value ($400) clues. If so — and if the player bets everything during both Daily Doubles — that contestant could theoretically accrue $283,200 ($70,800×2×2) before the Final Jeopardy! round.
All that’s left to do is wager all $283,200 on the last clue, provide the correct response, and walk away with a $566,400 payday.
This scenario, while astronomically unlikely, is made even more unlikely considering that the quiz show’s production team would have to voluntarily hide the Daily Double clues under the lowest dollar amounts. (The location of the Daily Doubles is not randomized, but rather set by the show’s writers, a representative for Sony Pictures Entertainment confirmed). The winning contestant would also need the superhuman ability to correctly determine which of the six categories contained those Daily Doubles.
During a “perfect game,” there would also be only one player left in the Final Jeopardy! round, as the show’s rules prohibit players with $0 or less from competing. That means the remaining player would need to risk a guaranteed $283,200 — with no opponent in sight — for the chance to win $566,400. It could also mean the player loses everything and ends up with $0.
In the latter case, the contestant wouldn’t be invited back as a returning champion for a subsequent game, no matter how well they played earlier, according to a “Jeopardy!” representative.
The risks of playing so brazenly, therefore, could hinder any chance at a multi-day winning streak, wherein contestants can potentially win significantly more than $566,400.
So, yes, it’s theoretically possible to win $566,400 during a perfect “Jeopardy!” game. But when it comes to probability, it’s more likely to be selected to replace Ken Jennings or Mayim Bialik as the show’s hosts.
Might we suggest trying your luck at “Wheel of Fortune” instead?