"Jeopardy!" Producer Defends "Hard to Watch" On-Air Moment
Producer Sarah Foss said it was a "tough" ruling, but stood by production's decision.
Jeopardy! episodes are taped ahead of time, but that doesn't mean the show is free of awkward moments. In the past, producers have apologized for slip-ups and offered explanations for games that didn't necessarily go to plan. This time, however, Jeopardy! producer Sarah Foss defended an on-air ruling that one viewer said was "hard to watch." Read on to find out what happened—and why Foss said production made the right call.
The hiccup occurred during last Friday's Final Jeopardy!
The Oct. 13 episode of Jeopardy! was the semifinal round of the Champions Wildcard tournament, which invites back players who one between one and three games during previous seasons. Last Friday's episode featured Joe Velasco (one-game winner from Season 37), Sam Stapleton (two-game winner from Season 37), and Lawrence Long (three-game winner from Season 38).
When it came time for Final Jeopardy!, Stapleton was in the lead with $18,400, followed by Long with $10,000, and Velasco with $7,300. The category was "Royalty," with host Ken Jennings reading the clue, "Before his death in 2005, he said he was 'probably the last head of state to be able to recognize all his compatriots on the street.'"
Velasco answered incorrectly with King Hussein, wagering $0 and keeping his score. Stapleton was also incorrect, writing Juan Carlos I, losing his $1,601 wager and dropping his score to $16,799. The correct answer was Prince Rainier III (of Monaco), which Long thought he'd guessed correctly. However, the judges ruled otherwise.
An incorrect title meant the answer could not be accepted.
Long guessed "King Rainier," prompting Jennings to tell him that he was "thinking of the right guy." The issue was with his inclusion of the "King" title.
"Unfortunately, Monaco does not have kings. He was Prince Rainier, so we cannot accept that," Jennings explained.
Long wagered his entire $10,000, dropping him down to $0 and landing him in third place. Had he been deemed correct, he would have come in first with $20,000.
Viewers shared their opinions online.
Some fans were quite displeased about this technicality, airing their discontent on social media.
"This hurts big time," the top comment on YouTube reads. "Jeopardy is an unforgiving game."
Another wrote, "I feel bad for [Lawrence], and this was a little hard for me to watch."
On Facebook, another viewer defended Long's answer, writing, "I really think the judges should have accepted Rainier…he obviously knew it…this was cruddy."
"That was a brutal turn of events in a very well-played game," another added, questioning whether Long would've been correct if he had just left off the formal title.
According to producers, the answer to that question is yes.
Jennings confirmed Long should've left off "King."
The situation was discussed during the Oct. 16 episode of the Inside Jeopardy! podcast, where they played a soundbite recorded after Friday's game. In the clip, Long directly asked Jennings whether he would've been correct with just "Rainier."
"Yeah, Rainier would've been fine, in fact. I don't know if you want to know that," Jennings said, which was met with sympathetic "aww"s from the audience.
However, Jennings also conceded that the situation is unique, telling Long, "It's hard to think of another country where the head-of-state is just the price instead of [ascending] to the king."
Foss said it was "tough," but production couldn't find any reference to a "King Rainier."
While the situation was tricky and Jennings said he didn't "feel great" about it, Foss defended production's decision on the podcast.
"Wow, what a tough final this was for Lawrence. This was a tough ruling," Foss said, noting that they halted taping to try to verify Long's answer. "We were looking for any reference, if we could find a 'King Rainier' anywhere, in anything, to start backing up a case for why it could also be accepted, but we couldn't find anything."
Former champ Buzzy Cohen, who was co-hosting the podcast, also noted, "It's a tough ruling, it's the right ruling, but I think everyone wants—when somebody's in the spirit of the right answer—we want to give it to them, but rules are rules."
Cohen added, "That is one of those cases where [contestants should] give as little as possible and be prompted for more."