Top 10 Jeopardy Controversies
VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton
WRITTEN BY: Nathan Sharp
Who would have thought that a game show could generate this much controversy? For this list, we'll be looking at the biggest public scandals that have afflicted the game show throughout its run. Our countdown includes The Feud with Fleming, Trebek Shaves His Mustache, Ken Jennings, and more!
Top 10 Jeopardy Controversies
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Jeopardy! controversies.
For this list, we’ll be looking at the biggest public scandals that have afflicted the game show throughout its run.
Do any of these bother you? Let it out in the comments.
#10: The Feud with Fleming
While “Jeopardy!” will forever be linked with Alex Trebek, the original host was a man named Art Fleming. And he hated what the show eventually became. Fleming hosted “Jeopardy!” from 1964 until its first cancellation in ‘75. He was asked to return for the revival, but declined for a variety of reasons. The main one was the production’s move from New York to Los Angeles - a move that Fleming resented, as he thought the L.A. setting made for a dumber show. As he once stated, “In California there's no mental stimulation.” He hated the supposed ease of the revival’s questions and the glamorous production values, and he also disagreed with Trebek’s assertions that “Jeopardy!” has educational value, calling it “basically fluff.”
Both the oldest and most prestigious tennis tournament in the world, Wimbledon has been held every year since 1877. But despite its long history and popularity, people still mispronounce it as “Wimbleton.” Unfortunately, this came back to bite contestant Reid Rodgers in the behind ... Rodgers was awarded $400 for his answer, but Trebek later deducted the money instead, pointing out that Rodgers had mispronounced it. Many people weren’t happy with the decision, both because Rodgers had the right venue in mind, and “Wimbleton” is a common mispronunciation in North America. But rules are rules, and Rodgers was courteous in accepting the punishment.
#8: Trebek Shaves His Mustache
It’s not often that someone’s facial hair becomes a national icon on its own, but Alex Trebek’s mustache proved the exception. Trebek sported a rockin’ ‘stache from 1984 to 2001, when he decided to shave it off on a whim. What he couldn’t foresee was the shocked reaction of the nation. Trebek’s shaving became headline news around the country, and the popular host didn’t care for it. He told New Republic, “It got so much press, I couldn’t believe it...people are all in a stew over my moustache. I have one response: Get a life.” He also stated in an interview with The Archive of American Television that he was “appalled” by the reaction.
#7: Culturally Insensitive Answers
Back in April of 2021, the producers of “Jeopardy!” were criticized by over 200 previous contestants, who had signed a collective and public letter accusing them of fostering culturally insensitive answers. The problem arose when a contestant gave an answer that is considered a pejorative by the Romani people. The term has been historically regarded as a racial slur, and the previous contestants were not happy with its inclusion. Within the letter, they called the answer an “ignorant reply” and asked the producers to hire a “sensitivity and diversity auditor” to prevent similar controversies from occurring in the future.
#6: “The” Easy Final Clue
The final clue is always a unique one and is often distinguished by its difficulty and clever wording. For many, the final clues are often the most challenging. But that wasn’t the case for the episode airing on July 6, 2021. The final clue was regarding The Ohio State University’s infamous attempt at trademarking the word “the” for use on its merchandise. This was big news back in 2019, and many fans thought that prevalent media coverage made the answer far too easy. Vocal and angry critics took to social media to lambast the writers.
#5: No One Knows Lincoln
2021 was probably the worst year on record for the beloved game show. Amidst all the scandals and easy questions, some contestants couldn’t identify one of the most popular quotations in the English language. And it left some viewers livid. In an episode hosted by Mayim Bialik, a “Quotations” question asked for the source of the famous quote “Government of the people, by the people, for the people.” Unfortunately, none of the three contestants knew that it comes from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Viewers quickly flocked to social media to voice their dissatisfaction with the contestants, and it made for quite a nasty night for “Jeopardy!”
#4: Watson’s Win
From February 14th through 16th, 2011, supercomputer Watson played and handedly defeated the legendary champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. Unfortunately, some critics took issue with the win owing to Watson’s unfair advantage. Rather than hearing and understanding the questions in real time through voice recognition software, Watson was given the questions through ASCII text. It knew the answer before Trebek was even finished, whereas Rutter and Jennings were still processing the wording and thinking about their responses. Watson was therefore immediately ready with the buzz-in, and it was this inhumanely quick reaction time - not that it knew more than the human players - that allowed it to win.
#3: Arthur Chu
With an eleven game winning streak throughout the winter of 2014, Arthur Chu is arguably the most controversial “Jeopardy!” champion of the decade. Some viewers hated his gameplay strategy, which included bouncing around the board, picking high value clues first, and hunting for Daily doubles. Others were irritated by how close he held the buzzer to the microphone, resulting in audible clicks. Still more were upset that he interrupted Alex Trebek to get to the next clue. Taking to social media to vent their outrage, viewers dubbed him “The Jeopardy Villain”, a moniker he embraced.
#2: The Mike Richards Fiasco
This TV producer is essentially the modern day Icarus. In 2020, Richards was named the new executive producer of “Jeopardy!,” taking over for the retiring Harry Friedman. He then served as one of the guest hosts following Trebek’s death and was eventually announced as the new permanent host. This was met with hostility by the fanbase - not only did they see it as a power grab, but Richards was marred by previous controversies, including a wrongful termination lawsuit. It was quickly revealed that Richards had made numerous inappropriate comments in the past, and he immediately stepped down as permanent host. As if the juicy drama couldn’t get any juicier, he was fired from his role as executive producer just a few days later.
#1: Ken Jennings
We all knew that finding a replacement for Alex Trebek would be difficult, but we didn’t think it’d be this marred in controversy. Many people were excited for Ken Jennings’s brief tenure as host, but this was quickly stymied when past tweets resurfaced. The offensive statements caused some bewilderment within the fanbase, and Jennings admitted to writing “some unartful and insensitive things.” And in the midst of the Mike Richards fiasco, The Wall Street Journal declared that it was these past tweets that cost Jennings the permanent hosting job. Not only did it cause unwanted controversy for the studio (which is ironic, given the Richards situation), but focus groups reportedly weren’t thrilled about Jennings after the ordeal.