[Shocked at the apparent non-overlap between eai listeners and Jeopardy fans, btw]
So, yes there was a prize. During the game, they announced what the 2nd and 3rd place finishers were to receive, which announcement hardly registered with me. Immediately following the show's conclusion, we were brought to the table of one of the producers and asked to sign a form saying we would or wouldn't accept delivery of said prizes. I signed, OK.
My prizes were 1) a 286 Motorola computer (this was 1991, recall) and some kind of brass "desk set". I didn't own a "regular" computer at the time, just a C64 for gaming purposes. I'd been looking into it though and knew that the Motorola wasn't one I particularly wanted but I figured I could sell it and use the cash toward getting the desired one.
The show was taped in February and aired in mid-April. (Jeopardy, for tax purposes I imagine, had valued the PC at its list price of $1,800 though a quick check upon my return home showed that you could buy one anyplace for $1,200.) My prize (I never saw hide nor hair of the desk set) arrived on Oct. 31. During the course of the preceding summer, Motorola (and everyone else) had brought out their 386 line, rendering my unwanted PC obsolete. So I didn't unpack it but looked around for a business that purchased computers and found one in midtown. The deal was, you give them a product description, they put out a notice. If they locate an interested buyer, he sends them a check and they notify you. You then ship the PC to the buyer and when he verifies receipt, they release his check to you less a 10% commission. Fine, they found someone who would pay $660 for it which I figured would cover my taxes on my "winnings". I shipped out the box to Louisiana and shortly received my $600 check.
A few weeks later, I get a note in my mailbox of a package awaiting me at the Post Office. I go over and there's my box. I see that the Louisiana guy had, without removing my return address, sent it to somewhere in South Carolina where it had apparently been refused and so the PO sent it back to me. Wonderful. Being an honest feller, I called the middleman company I'd dealt with, explained the situation. They contacted the LA guy, he sent me a check to cover reposting and I sent it out again.
Come tax time, I receive a W-2 from Jeopardy, claiming full value, natch, for the merchandise. However, i know that if I can show "true market value", which I could due to my legit sale, I can claim that income instead and did so, including copies of all pertinent documents.
Three years later...I get a letter from the IRS accusing me of under-reporting my income for 1991. Oy. I call some IRS office out in Long Island and explain the story to a lady. "Oh, you were on Jeopardy! How exciting!" etc, etc. Turns out I was correct in my approach except that they needed a letter from the company who handled the sale, explicitly stating that $660 was the market price for the PC. Fer krissakes. Amazingly enough, the company was still in business and, even more amazingly, I got hold of a sweet young girl who was willing to look through three year-old records, find a copy of my transaction and write the needed letter.
Thus, finally, ended my Jeopardy experience.
Linda was actually on "So You Want to Be A Millionaire" in 2001, but that's another story....