Alex Trebek says a controversy that erupted over a spelling ruling on the “Kid Jeopardy” version of “Jeopardy” earlier this month was mishandled by the show’s producers.
As a result, Trebek says he was unfairly blamed for a ruling that was made off-camera by the show’s judges.
“It wasn’t my decision; it was the judges’,” said Trebek, 73, in an interview with 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.”
At issue was a Final Jeopardy answer that was misspelled by contestant Thomas Hurley, 12, of Newtown, Conn. The correct “answer” was “What was the Emancipation Proclamation?” In his handwritten answer, Hurley misspelled “emancipation” as “emanciptation,” and his answer, though technically correct, was invalidated.
The show was taped last winter and aired earlier this month. After the airing, the boy complained that he felt “cheated” in an interview with a local paper in Connecticut. After his interview was widely covered around the country, the producers of “Jeopardy” issued a statement defending their decision to disqualify his answer (though the boy had no chance of winning the round or the game anyway).
But their statement failed to adequately explain the show’s spelling rules — which are apparently applied on a case-by-case basis at the discretion of the judges. “If they had just explained the rules, that would have been the end of it,” Trebek said. “I thought [the producers' prepared statement] was insensitive to Thomas and to his family and to our viewers.”
The statement read like this: “If ‘Jeopardy!’ were to give credit for an incorrect response (however minor), the show would effectively penalize the other players. We love presenting young people as contestants on our show, and make every effort to be fair and consistent in their treatment.”
To Trebek, the statement did nothing to explain why this particular ruling was made. “The rules are very simple,” he told the L.A. Times. “Normally we don’t penalize anybody for misspelling. 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.”
Still, Trebek said he doesn’t really have a problem with the judges’ decision, just the statement that failed to point out that the decision didn’t rest with him. “I want to be liked and I try my darndest with the kids, because they are so sensitive,” Trebek is quoted as saying.
“After the show I said [to the judges], ‘I can understand [the ruling], 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.”