AT RANDOM: Backlash for $200, Alex

Roger Knox dives into quiz show controversy over Jeopardy! kids week

Somehow it seems apropos that days after the movie Quiz Show was aired on TV, another real-life quiz show controversy has emerged.

Quiz Show came out in 1994, directed by Robert Redford, and was based on the true-life scandal of the 1950s TV show 21, where it was proved that the show was rigged by giving contestants the answers.

Specifically, the movie focused on champion Charles Van Doren, brilliantly portrayed on-screen by actor Ralph Fiennes.

The son of a Pulitzer Prize winner, Van Doren won thousands before throwing a game to get off TV after being a champion for months.

He then confessed before a committee investigating the scandal that he had been given answers to questions beforehand and that he had “participated in a deceipt.”

Fast forward to today and now the long-running show Jeopardy! is facing criticism for a controversy involving, of all things, a 12-year-old boy.

Jeopardy! hosted a kids week. On the show where Thomas Hurley was a contestant, the final Jeopardy! category was the Civil War, and the question was about a document written in 1863 that Abraham Lincoln called “a fit and necessary war measure.”

The correct answer is Emancipation Proclamation, which Hurley thought he had written down, as can be seen in pictures and on the video.

Unfortunately for Hurley, he added an extra “T” and it came out as “EmancipTation Proclamation.”

Host Alex Trebek informed Hurley and all of America that Hurley’s answer was “incorrect and spelled badly,” and judges said the answer was not acceptable.

You can see on video Hurley mouth the word “what?” and hang his head in disappointment upon learning of his spelling mistake.

Hurley, who entered final Jeopardy! with $9,600, bet $3,000. He ended up in second place. To be fair, Hurley could not have caught the winner, a kid named Skyler who had an insurmountable lead with $36,600 (though Skyler did wager $30,000 and got the answer right which, as Trebek boorishly pointed out, was “spelled correctly.”).

The incident has created controversy and backlash for the show and for Trebek.

Many have called him arrogant and smug, saying he could have handled it better. At first, when I watched the video, I thought Trebek was pained at having to tell the kid and the audience his answer was wrong because of a spelling error.

But watch the video closely and you see Trebek make an error, telling the audience Hurley added a “P” when he should have said “T.” So even he isn’t perfect.

Jeopardy! producers issued a statement saying “if the show were to give credit for an incorrect response (however minor), the show would effectively penalize the other players.”


Clearly, Hurley’s answer was not “spelled badly.” It wasn’t “Amensuhpayshun Prockluhmayshun.” It was one letter. The intent of his answer, to me anyway, was crystal clear. If Trebek had asked him the question during the show, Hurley would have said it properly. It’s only the final question where contestants have to write their answer.

I didn’t know Jeopardy! was a warm-up for the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Hurley, who took home $2,000 for finishing second, said it was a neat experience, that he got to go to California and ended up with some cash for his college fund.

However, he has also said he feels cheated and will never watch Jeopardy! again.

Can’t say I blame the kid.