What are the Average Winnings of a Contestant on Jeopardy?

Back in January, I answered the question about how much an individual win was worth on Jeopardy. Now, I’d like to answer the question of “What are the average winnings of a contestant on Jeopardy”?

The calculations here take into account every regular-play game since October 4, 2004.

This calculation has a few parts to it.

  1. Determine how much an average champion makes on the show;
  2. Determine how much an average non-champion makes on the show;
  3. Put it all together, taking the chance that a challenger wins the game into account.

What are the average winnings of a champion?

Since October 4, 2004, the average champion:

  • has a winning score of $19,980.15
  • wins 46.53% of the time in the next game (1,086/2,334)
  • comes second 30.46% of the time (711/2,334)
  • comes third 23.01% of the time (537/2,334)

Using the same methodology in the “worth of a win on Jeopardy!” article, through May 24, 2017, a first win on the program is currently worth $20,487.45 (that also includes the 4.69% chance of the average 1-day champion winning enough to reach the ToC, and the $32,667 average ToC winnings, as well as the average consolation prize of $1,569.71, slightly higher than $1,500 because the defending champion is more likely to finish second than third).

Adding that to the average win gives you a total of $40,467.60.

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What are the average winnings of a non-winning contestant?

Given the above percentages, because every game nominally has a champion, second place, and third place player, and we know how often the champion wins, comes second, and comes, third, we can do the math to say that challengers have won 1,266 games, placed 2nd 1,623 times, and placed 3rd 1,797 times. (Note that this adds up to 4,668 as there are nominally 2 challengers for each game.) Thus, we can also say that the average challenger, if they take a consolation prize, take the 2nd place consolation prize of $2,000 47.5% of the time and the 3rd place consolation prize of $1,000 52.5% of the time (an average of $1,474.56 in consolation prizes.)

Putting it all together

At this point, we just need to take the percentage of time a challenger wins, the percentage they get consolation money, and the various prizes calculated above, for one final number. Here’s the formula

(% of time the challenger wins) * (Amount of $ won by an average challenger) + (% of time the challenger takes a consolation prize) * (Amount of consolation money won).

Given that a champion wins 46.53% of the time, it stands to reason that the average challenger wins 26.74% of the time. Thus, they take a consolation prize 73.26% of the time.

Putting it into the formula, we have:

26.74% * $40,467.60 + 73.26% * $1,474.56 = $11,899.44

So, there you have it. The average winnings of a contestant on Jeopardy! are a shade under $11,900. Of course, most of those contestants win $1,000 or $2,000, and only a select few get into six figures.

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