Alex Trebek Was In Hot Water With This ‘Jeopardy’ Controversy

Jeopardy host Alex Trebek is a fan favorite on the iconic game show, where he’s held his post at the board since 1984. Viewers love the quiz master for his sharp intellect and serious yet amiable demeanor.

While the television personality almost never receives negative press, Trebek encountered some backlash following an episode from a “Kids Week” tournament.

Alex Trebek of 'Jeopardy'
Alex Trebek of ‘Jeopardy’ | Eric McCandless/ABC via Getty Images

‘Final Jeopardy’ error

When eighth-grader Thomas Hurley competed on Jeopardy during “Kids Week” in 2013, he almost beat out his fellow players except for one small detail.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the “Final Jeopardy” category on the episode under scrutiny was “Famous Documents.” Contestants had to name the 1863 document Abraham Lincoln called a “fit and necessary war measure,’’ with the answer being the Emancipation Proclamation.  

The 12-year-old had the right answer, but misspelled the first word as ’emanciptation.’ The spellings appeared so similar that Trebek overlooked the error at first, but quickly disqualified the response which meant Hurley came in second place. “Because you misspelled it badly… that’s unfortunate,” Trebek told Hurley. “The judges are ruling against you.”

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Alex Trebek gets hit with the fallout

Hurley didn’t waste time venting his frustration on the outcome to the press. “I was pretty upset that I was cheated out of the final Jeopardy question,” he told the Danbury News-Times. “It was just a spelling error. … It’s just upsetting to have lost that way. I don’t know why it would have counted as the wrong answer.”

Game show producers released a statement trying to clear up the controversy. “If Jeopardy were to give credit for an incorrect response (however minor), the show would effectively penalize the other players,” the statement read. “We love presenting young people as contestants on our show, and make every effort to be fair and consistent in their treatment.”

The Jeopardy fandom didn’t waste time flooding Facebook with negative comments, many of them targeting Trebek. The television personality felt that the vitriol was misplaced.

“It wasn’t my decision; it was the judges’,” Trebek told the Los Angeles Times. “I don’t mind being accountable if it’s something I have done, but it kind of bothers me to take a lot of flak for something I haven’t done. I must be getting thin-skinned in my old age.”

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‘Jeopardy’ host tries to explain the rules

Trebek revealed that he wasn’t a fan of the ruling either, but judges had to play by the book.

“I want to be liked and I try my darndest with the kids, because they are so sensitive,” he said. “After the show I said [to the judges], ‘I can understand it, but it’s a little rough.’ I thought they may have ruled a little harshly, but they ruled according to the rules of the game. They made a valid point, and I can understand that.”

Detailing the exact issue of the error, Trebek hoped to clarify for audiences why the decision against Hurley had to stand.

“The rules are very simple. Normally we don’t penalize anybody for misspelling,” he explained. “I mean if he had spelled emancipation, p-a-y-s-h-u-n, we probably would have accepted it. But if you add a syllable through your spelling mistake, or delete a syllable, then the judges will rule against you.”

The Jeopardy host felt that the statement from producers should have focused on the rules. Since the guidelines weren’t mentioned, the situation was further muddled.

“If they had just explained the rules, that would have been the end of it,” Trebek told the news outlet. “I thought it was insensitive to Thomas and to his family and to our viewers.”

The controversy eventually blew over, and Trebek hasn’t missed a beat at the iconic Jeopardy board.

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