I'm immensely thankful to the all-volunteer team over at J! Archive for providing the source material for this. Particularly, the "game responses" page for each game enabled me to quickly identify rulings that were reversed or occasioned attention for other reasons. As a result, I was able to find every instance of the judges overruling an original call for the one-year period from February 2018 to February 2019, as well as other rulings. Many of the examples you'll see below come from that period, along with others that stick out in my mind.
Contestants may change their responses as long as neither [the host] nor the judges have made a ruling.This is one area in which I think the show has not been entirely consistent; this may owe to the host initially ruling one way and being immediately overruled by the judges' table. Let's look at some examples.
Correct responses must satisfy the demands of both the clue and the category.
Hereís the thing: if there exists a clear and consistent principle that governs the deployment of a "more specific" prompt, I canít discern it. Andy Saunders of The Jeopardy! Fan once stated: "The general rule in the past has usually been 'prominent in the same field'." This was in respect of a Final Jeopardy! clue that had Peyton Manning as its correct response. Well…
As it happens, in each of the instances described above, one of the clues showed a picture of the subject person, while the other did not. In the Manning case, the clue with the the picture didnít get a "more specific" prompt, while the one without the photo did; in the Sutherland case, it was the other way around. Also, for what itís worth: all four clues in the mentioned examples have occurred since Michael Davies became the showís executive producer.
[ Show/hide penalized phrasing violations ]
Alex Trebek: You add seven thousand [and one] dollars today. That brings you up to sixteen thousand six-oh-one. Yesterday, you had eight thousand; that brings your two-day total to twenty-four thousand, six-oh-one. Two, four, six, oh, one.[No. 7942 (March 5, 2019): Final Jeopardy! round — CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT MATH]
Colby Burnett: Do your hear the people sing?
Alex: Wasn't that Jean Valjean's number in Les Misérables? Ohh.
(Camera cuts to the six finalists not playing the round laughing and applauding.)
Colby: It was but a loaf of bread.
Alex: All right.
|Scores after 25 clues||$6,000||$5,000||$1,000|
|Original responses||carriage ||train ||chariot |
|Scores after 26 clues||$6,600||$4,400||$400|
|Entering 2nd commercial break||$7,000||$8,200||$400|
|Revised rulings||carriage ||train ||chariot |
|Revised scores to start DJ!||$7,000||$8,800||$1,600|
As Alex explained, had Becky been initially credited with a correct response, Lori would not have been able to ring in and give an incorrect one — which is why the judges restored the $600 she lost. But wait, you might be thinking — if Becky had been ruled correct, Rick would not have been able to ring in either! Shouldn't he lose the $600 he picked up for "carriage"? Yet he keeps it.
This is what I'm referring to when I talk about "asymmetric application" of the rule on responses subsequent to a reversal — subsequent responses that are wrong are handled differently than subsequent responses that are right. But viewed from different perspectives, the two scenarios are consistent. For one thing, both instances are resolved in the manner most favorable to the player. And for another, a correct response is always credited as such, even if never would have been given but for the judges' mistake.
[No. 7817 (September 11, 2018): Jeopardy! round, clue 26 — GO FLY A KITE!, $600]
In my opinion, this was easily the worst ruling that the judges have made on the show in a great many seasons. To my ear, there is such an insignificant difference between "Barry" and "Berry" that the judges deserve to receive every single last complaint the show gets tonight on social media. Thankfully, this was immaterial to the outcome of the game and she wonít be returned, but still. Betsy should have received credit and this was 100% a terrible ruling by the judges.It all goes to something called the "Mary–marry–merry merger." The "full merger," in which those three words are pronounced identically, is found not only throughout 57% of the United States, but also in all of Canada but Montréal. On the other hand, the "three-way contrast," in which the words have three distinct pronunciations, is found in 17% of America, most particularly in the Philadelphia and New York City areas. Andy is from Ontario and now lives in Newfoundland and Labrador, while I'm originally from Long Island and now reside in the Philadelphia suburbs — that pretty much explains why I detected a change of pronunciation, while he did not.
Notwithstanding the difference in how we hear those words, the fact that the majority of the population of the U.S. considers "Barry" and "Berry" to be identically pronounced is more than enough to bring me into agreement with Andy that the Jeopardy! judges fouled up this ruling; fortunately, as stated in the above quote, there was no impact on the outcome. It didn't help the show's cause that its repeatedly Tweeted response begged the question (as that term is properly used); it assumed the truth of the very point under contention. Reisz noted that she's a Kentucky native and it's "full merger" for her. With that in mind, her grace and humor in handling the moment was impressive.
(Thanks to Robert K S for prompting me to add this to the case book.)
[No. 8237 (September 15, 2020): Final Jeopardy! round — THE MUSIC BIZ]
[No. 8822 (March 7, 2023): Final Jeopardy! round — NAMES IN THE BOOKSTORE]
Many objected on the ground that Sadie knew the correct response; that doesn't fly, as the examples presented above demonstrate. But what distinguishes this instance is the insistence that "Tubman" was written in its entirety. Here's an example. I note here that the show's control room can see the strokes of the light pen on the screen during Final as they are made, as demonstrated in a video from 2018.
Based on the control room's ability to review the light pen's movements (in Final) and its ability to isolate a particular contestant's audio (in the Jeopardy! and Double Jeopardy! rounds), Andy grants just about absolute deference to the judges on matters of what response was or wasn't given, if it was given in time, and whether it was phrased properly. In an instance such as this, I default to the replay review rule long used in the NFL — that incontrovertible evidence must exist on the telecast audio or video to dispute the judges. That's necessarily and intentionally a high bar to clear, and it wasn't cleared in this instance. That means, of course, that had the judges ruled Goldberger's response correct initially, I would back that decision. With the next section getting into what causes players to be invited back to the show if it's determined they've been sufficiently disadvantaged, it's worth noting: as far as is known, no defeated player has ever been returned on account of a change of opinion as to what their response in Final was.
[No. 8665 (June 17, 2022): Final Jeopardy! round — 19th CENTURY CONTEMPORARIES]
Handling problems in Final Jeopardy!
In such a case, and with all three players playing Final, you look at each of the eight possible outcomes. The table lists each of them in its own row; the score in italics is the winning one for that outcome. (The fourth one, a solo get by Patricia, was the outcome that actually happened.)
|Scores after Double Jeopardy!||$2,600||$9,400||$10,800|
|Final Jeopardy! wagers||$0||$9,400||$8,001|
Camille won and returned the following day. But because the clue was effectively thrown out, Ashley was allowed to return again as a challenger the day after that, whereupon she won two games. Looking at the table, you notice that in none of the eight possibilities does Patricia have the highest score. That, and that alone, is why she didn't get invited back along with Ashley.
[No. 7202 (December 29, 2015): Final Jeopardy! round — FAMOUS LAST NAMES]
A discrepancy between the third and fourth versions was grounds for a player to be invited back in 2018. Versions 1, 2, and 4 of that Final clue said "this" — but the in-studio monitor said "his," leading Vincent Valenzuela to, surprisingly to viewers at home, cross out "tree hugger" and write "Carl Sagan" instead. He was leading going into Final and bet to cover, so but for the faulted clue, he would've won — hence the decision to bring him back on, which the show explained when he returned. The news of Valenzuela's return broke just three days after his original appearance, and did so after Andy and I had spent a not-insignificant amount of time examining, in nearly Zapruder film-esque detail, what was on that monitor.
[No. 7805 (July 13, 2018): Final Jeopardy! round — MODERN LANGUAGE]
Other instances of players challenging again
Under new executive producer Michael Davies, the show reverts to the prior practice in 2023 — that is, a Tournament of Champions in November featuring players from the preceding season.
(Thanks to Andy Saunders for prompting reconsideration of the original name of this rule.)
That's true as far as the cap in that amount, but not the cap altogether. From what I recall: At the start of Season 7 the cap was raised to $100,000 and then to $200,000 at the start of Season 14 (I know the latter because I saw a clip of that season's premiere where Alex said that). I believe the cap wasn't eliminated altogether until "sky's the limit" took effect with Season 20.
In the abstract, I like these attempts to level the playing field, even though they lead, in practice, to closer finishes—even a handful of games that are still up in the air going into Final Jeopardy. After all, the NBA widened the free throw lane for George Mikan and Wilt Chamberlain. Major League Baseball shrank the strike zone [and lowered the pitcher's mound] to hamper pitchers like Bob Gibson. At least I'm in good company.When Andy of The Jeopardy! Fan first unveiled his performance prediction model in April 2016, he cited this change, as well as the incompleteness of J! Archive, as reasons why 2004-10-04 would be the starting point for the data that inform the model. As recently as May 2020, he reaffirmed that using the model on games prior to that date would not be appropriate.
Ties always presented a logistical problem for both the show and its contestants. Co-champions in a game mean one less slot for a challenger. A player who has made the trip to Southern California at their own expense doesn't get the chance to play Jeopardy! that they expected to have.
Another possible rationale may have underlaid the mid-season rule change. Let's recall here that the very concept of the game — giving the players the answers — arose from the quiz show scandals of the 1950s. Another effect of those scandals was for Congress to amend the Communications Act of 1934, making fixing of televised contests a Federal crime; the amendment is presently codified at 47 U.S. Code §509. Consider the following example that Andy Saunders has posited: a player gets The Call from the producers, and Tweets their tape date. Prior to that date, they get a reply from someone else who is taping at the same time. These players have now established contact, and it would be a logistical nightmare for the show to constantly be rescheduling tape dates for this reason. With co-champions, these players might make an agreement that if they were in a position to tie for the win, they would do so. That possibility comes off the table under the current rules, as those players could assure themselves of nothing more than a single-clue buzzer race, with the winner getting their winnings and returning, and the loser settling for $2,000.
For much of the show's history, the show considered the possibility of this happening to be sufficiently remote that it could be reconciled with having co-champions. It took some steps to preclude players who knew each other previously from playing against one another. (Indeed, in Brainiac, Ken Jennings recounts the story of one of his acquaintances having to wait to play until Ken's run concluded.) With the advent of social media, it became significantly more difficult to assure this — which, when combined with the higher frequency of ties and Williams' advocacy for offering them, may have raised the show's awareness of the risk posed. That the prospect of collusion could have factored into Jeopardy!'s thinking on this point is strongly contested by JBoard user "mjhunt"; they cite a 2010 game where two contestants, who had auditioned together, competed against each other, and subsequently married in 2012. I would note that according to that Washington Post article, there was no contact between those two players between the brief interaction at their audition and their arrival on the show's sound stage. Even so, "mjhunt" does have a point about the collusion possibility having existed since the show's inception, and Facebook and Twitter both existed for years prior to Jeopardy! abolishing ties.
The show never publicly disclosed what spurred it to abolish ties — indeed, Jeopardy! didn't even acknowledge that the rule change had been made until over a year after the fact. We probably won't ever know for certain what the underlying rationale was — any, all, or none of the factors I've described here could have been in play.
So why is this qualified by "excessively" and "may"? Well, because on at least three occasions in regular play subsequent to James's departure, extraneous information was inserted into an otherwise correct response, and that response was not ruled against by the judges. On July 23, 2019, John Myers inserted a shout-out alongside his correct response of "Scrabble." The response was ruled correct, but it was in this instance moot, as Jason Zuffranieri had the lead entering Final, bet to cover, and claimed the third of his nineteen victories. On March 17, 2020, Kris Sunderic responded in Final, "What is China? (And who is going to hire this PhD?)" The correct response was indeed "China," and Kris was credited; in contrast to the previous example, though, neither of his opponents came up with it. And absent being ruled correct, Sunderic would have lost the game. On October 22, 2020, Colin Davy added a happy birthday wish to his sister below his response of "Guernica." Had that wish been held to be a part of his response and led it to being ruled incorrect, he would have been passed by Lindsey Packer.
So exactly how extensively this rule applies remains unclear. It should also be noted that the statement came only from James, and was not commented on, confirmed, or denied by the show. Therefore, this might not even be in the show's rule book at all. Would it be enforced again were a player judged by the producers to be "abusing" the light pen in Final? Or was it, in effect, a "bill of attainder" — that is, a decree applicable only to Holzhauer? Only time may tell.
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