What An Idiot / Jeopardy!
"This trope is used to describe those moments where the contestant can't seemingly get the right answer." [Trope-tan's podium lights up]
What is "What an Idiot"? Alex Trebek:
Correct, and I've found myself saying that on more than one occasion. Pick again!
Idiotic answers aren't all that rare on game shows. But as Jeopardy!
has been on the air in some form for most of the past 50 years, it's bound to happen.
If you are dedicated to becoming a returning champion:
- You are probably going to do plenty of studying (or just know everything already), and you need to be confident enough to provide general knowledge answers to a national television audience. The show has even received a Peabody Award for encouraging such knowledge.
- Just in case, you also need to do the math and understand the strategies. Should you wager (almost) everything? ...just enough? ...(almost) nothing at all?
With all of the pressure, somebody is likely to mess up.
As with the other Game Show
pages in What An Idiot
, some of the following contestants may very well have given these stupid answers on purpose
, whereas others earnestly are stumped, don't know the answer to easy questions, or are unable to provide a correct answer due to the pressures of doing well under the hot studio lights and on camera. That doesn't make them any less stupid, mind you, but instead they become far more worthy of being here.
- Poor wagering has sunk far too many contestants to count. You end up pitying anyone who gets Final Jeopardy! right, but loses due to under-wagering.
- Although rare, you'll occasionally see a contestant with a huge lead losing due to providing an incorrect response with a massive wager.
- Late 1960s: One episode from the Fleming era had all three contestants playing the game so poorly that none of them finished Double Jeopardy! with a score above zero. Final Jeopardy! was not played that day and Fleming spent the time normally used for it chatting with the contestants.
- September 12, 1984: On the current version's third episode, a contestant has found an Audio Daily Double in the "World of Food" category. The clue is "What Merv has a lovely bunch of in this song," accompanied by a snippet of Griffin singing.
- You'd Expect: The contestant to respond, "What are coconuts?"
- Instead: He says, "What is a fish?" to the groans of the audience.
Alex: "I've got a lovely bunch of fish..." (beat) Somehow, it doesn't work.
- Mid-1980s: "In The Frisco Kid, Gene Wilder called it 'the city where all brothers love each other."
- You'd Expect "What is Philadelphia?"
- Instead: "What is San Francisco?"
- To Be Fair: "Frisco" is a common enough term for San Francisco, and the city does have a significant gay population.
- November 29, 1989: "To get to Wallace, Idaho, from Boston, get on I-90 West, and the first one of these you 'hit', you're there."
- You'd Expect: "What is a traffic light?" (as until 1991, I-90 in Wallace contained one of the few traffic lights in the Interstate Highway System)
- Instead: "What is a buffalo?"
- May 18, 1992: "The most popular men's jacket named for a meal."
- You'd Expect: "What is a dinner jacket?"
- Instead: "What is oatmeal?"
- June 30, 1993: "Wedgies should be worn only on these body parts."
- You'd Expect: "What are feet?" at best. If not, any guess should at least be a body part.
- Instead: "What are shoes?" Alex then rebukes the contestant by saying, "Shoes are not a body part, you knew that!"
- October 3, 1996: A category about "Theme Park Thrillers". The clue is "Hershey Park's new 'Wildcat' roller coaster is a blast from the past; it's made of this material."
- May 9, 1997: During the International Tournament, the category is Foreign Anatomy with the clue: "If a Japanese isha (doctor) asks you to stick out your shita, he means this."
- You'd Expect: "What is your tongue?"
- Instead: "What's your behind?"
- To Be Fair: if you only have a vague knowledge of Japanese (which in this case is worse than no knowledge) that almost makes sense, since "shita" can also mean "bottom" (as in the opposite of "top"). It's basic synonym trouble.
- November 19, 1997: Power Players Week: Going into Final Jeopardy! Al Franken has a runaway lead over Pat Schroeder and Jack Ford, $7,900-$2,100-$1,300.
- You'd Expect: Al would wager $0 to preserve the win.
- Instead: He actually does the unthinkable and, for possibly the only time in the history of Trebek's version of the show, "pulls a Cliff Clavin" and wagers everything. The Final is a triple stumper, and Pat wins from second place with only $100! Granted, it was a Celebrity Edition, and Al was likely trying to maximize the amount that his charity would get (back then, the winner's charity would get either $15,000 or the winner's score, whichever was higher), but even if he had pulled it off he'd have only gained $800 more than he would have by wagering just a dollar and holding on for the win.
- September 13, 2001: A category about Craps where the contestants must identify the dice combination that corresponds to the clue. In this case, "10, Easy," is given.
- You'd Expect: At least one of the contestants to guess 4 and 6. At the very worst, the field will be narrowed down by an incorrect answer of 5 and 5. Even if you've never played Craps, it's still common knowledge that a standard die uses the numbers 1-6.
- Instead: Oh boy.
- First contestant says, "What is 9 and 1?" to the laughter of Alex and the audience. The contestant admits he doesn't play Craps, to which Alex replies, "Obviously."
- Second contestant says, "What is 5 and 5?" Alex tells her, "That's a hard ten."
- Third contestant doesn't ring in at all!
- April 11, 2002: "It's the southernmost city in the 48 contiguous states."
- May 14, 2004 (Power Players' Week): Tavis Smiley, Christie Whitman, and Tim Russert are given "The U.S. Senate" for their Final Jeopardy! category and this clue: "In the year 1958, the U.S. Senate was made up of this many members."
- You'd Expect: That three celebrities who are active in the field of politics would come up with 96 as the correct response (48 states in 1958 multiplied by two senators per state).
- Instead: All three miss it, each giving a different incorrect response.
- November 20, 2006: During a celebrity episode, the category is "Literature" with this clue: "Of Pastism, Presentism or Futurism, the literary movement that began around 1909." Scott Turow has buzzed in first.
- You'd Expect: For the best-selling novelist to give one of the three choices contained in the clue, "Futurism" at best.
- Instead: "What is Modernism?"
Alex: "Mmm, that's not one of the three!"
- April 1, 2008: This Final Jeopardy! clue: "He's the only sitting vice president since Martin Van Buren elected to the presidency."
- November 19, 2008 (Teen Tournament): At Final Jeopardy! Karan and Sarah are tied for first at $12,800, but the other contestant is only $1,200 behind. Fortunately, the question (in the category Nonfiction Writers) is fairly easy: On July 21, 1944, she wrote, "I'm finally getting optimistic... an assassination attempt has been made on Hitler's life."
- You'd Expect: Both of them to get it and at least one of them to win. (If it was a tie, it would have gone to a tiebreaker given the tournament rules.)
- Instead: All contestants knew the answer (Who is Anne Frank?), but Sarah wagered $900 short of what was necessary to cover third place if he bet everything (which he did), and Karan wrote "Who is Annie Frank?", which was deemed unacceptable, so the third-place contestant won.
- February 6, 2009: A Final Jeopardy! with the subject "Music Legends" had the following answer: "His 2003 People magazine obituary was headlined 'Fade to Black'."
- You'd Expect: All three contestants - including a history teacher who was the returning champion – to easily figure out, "Who is/was Johnny Cash?"
- Instead: The history teacher's response: "Who is Chris Farley?" The other two contestants were correct.
- January 14-16, 2011: The AI contestant, Watson, made some rather infamous Artificial Stupidity moments during the three-episode special, dubbed "The IBM Challenge"note .
- The first game's Final Jeopardy!, which was played on Day 2: The category is "U.S. Cities" and the clue reads "Its largest airport is named for a World War II hero; its second largest for a World War II battle."
- You'd Expect: Watson to answer with a major city in the United States, "What is Chicago?" at best.
- Instead: What is Toronto??????
- Day 3: This "Also on your computer keys" clue: "A loose fitting dress hanging straight from the shoulders to below the waist."
- You'd Expect: Watson to at least answer with a key found on a computer keyboard.
- Instead: "What is Chemise?"
- To Be Fair: Watson was not programmed to see categories as strong indicators for solving the clue.
- April 9, 2012: "The Hollywood Walk of Fame" is the Final Jeopardy! category with this clue: "His widow Maria Elena & actor Gary Busey were on hand when his star was dedicated outside Capitol Records in 2011."
- You'd Expect: At best, "Who is Buddy Holly?" This is a tough Final Jeopardy! but any guess should be a deceased musician based on the word "widow" in the clue.
- Instead: One of the contestants writes, "Who is Ice-T?"
- May 3, 2012: On a Teen Tournament episode, the answer is "This Roc-a-Fella introduced us to a 'Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)'."
- You'd Expect: "Who is Jay-Z?" or some other hardcore street rapper.
- Instead: The first contestant guesses "Who is LMFAO?" the famous "Party Rock" duo comprised of the son and grandson (uncle and nephew, respectively) of Motown founder Berry Gordy. Not exactly a "hard knock/ghetto" upbringing...
- May 14, 2012: Another example from Power Players Week. The answer is "St. Basil's Cathedral is there," under the category "6-letter World Capitals".
- You'd Expect: "What is Moscow?" or another world capital with six letters in its name.
- Instead: Chris Matthews rings in and guesses "What is Istanbul?", which isn't even the capital of Turkey. (The actual capital of Turkey, Ankara, would have been a decent guess, since it does have six letters.)
- May 23, 2012: The Final Jeopardy! category is Animals with this clue: "A 2005 study reported that this animal named for an island has, pound-for-pound, the most powerful bite of any mammal."
- You'd expect: Either of the contestants to guess a mammal, possibly the correct response of Tasmanian Devil.
- Instead: One contestant writes down the correct response while the other two write the Komodo Dragon, which is a reptile, as their guess.
- June 4, 2012: Late in Double Jeopardy!, a contestant finds a Daily Double in the category "Science Grab Bag". He has $13,600, only $400 off the lead at this point.
- You'd Expect: That he would wager modestly, particularly since no other clues in the category have been revealed yet, and there are only nine more clues left on the board.
- Instead: He goes True Daily Double on the clue "Of the 10 listings on the Mohs scale, one of the 2 that end in 'Z'." and blurts out… "zirconia".note Cue his score dropping to $0.
- To Make Matters Worse: Seven of the nine remaining clues get played before time runs out. Of those, Terry rings in on the last one, but gives an incorrect response, thus knocking him down to −$1,200 and disqualifying him for Final Jeopardy!
- July 24, 2012: The $1,600 clue in the category "Argentina": "In 1974 not Evita but this widow of Juan Peron became the first female president in the western hemisphere."
- You'd Expect: "Who is Isabel [Peron]?"
- Instead: The first contestant rings in and says "Who is Eva Peron?" even though the clue said it wasn't Eva.
- December 28, 2012: It's a two-player Final Jeopardy! thanks to the rightmost player having −$400. The scores are Paula at $8,600 and Nichole at $17,200. Alex has even pointed out that Nichole has exactly double her opponent's score, which is known as a "lock-tie".
- You'd Expect: That Nichole would wager $0 and Paula everything, leaving Nichole with literally no chance of losing even on a wrong answer. Either Paula gets it right and they tie (meaning they both get the full $17,200 and the honor of returning the next day), or Paula gets it wrong and Nichole wins by herself.
- Instead: Nichole wagers $5,000 and gets it wrong, while Paula wagers everything and gets it right.
- February 7, 2013: A case of how NOT to wager in Final Jeopardy! It's the second semifinal game of that year's Teen Tournament. On a clue dealing with Capital Cities, contestants Kelton and Joe are fairly close to each other with $16,400 and $12,000, respectively; the third contestant, Tori, is way behind with only $1,600. The clue: "It's criss-crossed by dozens of 'peace walls' that separate its Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods."
- Wagering You'd Expect to See:
- In Joe's case, he wagers at least $4,401 (which, if Joe succeeds, forces Kelton into giving a correct response), but no more than $8,799 (keeping Joe one dollar ahead of Tori in case she doubles up). If he's unsure about the category, he could wager between $0 and $3,200, in hope that Kelton wagers enough and falters.
- In Kelton's situation, he wagers $7,601, which covers Joe succeeding on an all-in wager.
- Tori, whose best case scenario is second place, to wager no more than $1,599 based on Joe risking everything and giving an incorrect response.
- Instead: The problem isn't that they all stumble with Dublin, Ireland (it's actually Belfast, Northern Ireland, so they were in the right part of the world, at least). All three make the mistake of going double-or-nothing on the clue — in a tournament game, no less — and they all finish with nothing. This marks the first — and only — time a tournament game has resulted in all three contestants failing to advance.
- What Makes It Worse: As if this moment wasn't already worthy of a Face Palm, Leonard Cooper, a senior from Arkansas, makes into the final round as a wild-card entry the next day... and finishes the tournament as the champion.
- November 6, 2013: In the category "It's a Federal Holiday," the clue was "Of the 10 U.S. federal holidays, this one honors the oldest event historically." Columbus Day had been ruled incorrect.
- You'd Expect: Even if the correct answer of Christmas doesn't come to them, for the contestants not to go for a holiday that celebrates events more recent than the 15th century.
- Instead: "What is the Fourth of July?"
- November 21, 2013: A Final Jeopardy! clue with the category "U.S. Presidents" reads, "The second man to become president who was never elected to the job, he twice ran for the position unsuccessfully."
- January 7, 2014:
- The $1,600 clue in the category "Afrodisneyac" (Disney films that take place in Africa) reads. "Look out for that tree in the made-up African nation of Bukuvu, this title guy!"
- You'd Expect: One of the three contestants to guess, "Who is George of the Jungle?", keeping in mind that The Lion King and Tarzan had been correct responses to two previous answers in the category.
- Instead: "What is The Lion King?" The second contestant to ring in gave the correct response.
- Then: The Final Jeopardy! clue with the category "The Titanic" reads, "A member of Parliament said, 'Those who have been saved have been saved through one man', this Italian."
- You'd Expect: At least one of the contestants to have even basic knowledge about the Titanic and guess the inventor of the ship's radio communication system, "Who is [Guglielmo] Marconi"? If not, they would guess another notable name involved with the Titanic's communication system, Samuel Morse, the inventor of Morse code (used in the Marconi system).
- Instead: Two of the contestants write down "Who is Gallileo?", despite the fact that Gallileo was an astronomer who lived three centuries before the RMS Titanic disaster.
- January 15, 2014: In Double Jeopardy!, the $800 clue in the category "Lesser Known Names" reads, "Doughboy Frank Buckles, who passed away in 2011 at age 110, was the last surviving U.S. vet of this war."
- You'd Expect: After a little mental math for one of the contestants to respond "What is World War I?"
- Instead: "What is the Civil War?"
- March 21, 2014: In the category "Sports Superstars," the $400 clue states, "100+ assists in an NHL season has been accomplished only 13 times, 11 times by this player."
- You'd Expect: Any of the contestants recognizes the acronym (NHL) as the National Hockey League, and answers "Who is Wayne Gretzky?"
- Instead: One contestant (Joe) rings in, "Who is Magic Johnson?" a prolific player for the NBA, the National Basketball Association. The next contestant (Nancy) rings in with the correct answer.
- May 2, 2014:
- In the Jeopardy! round category "Which NYC Borough" (identify which New York City borough), the $800 clue involves identifying the borough that both LaGuardia Airport and John F. Kennedy International Airport are located in. There are two clues in the category left.
- You'd Expect: That the contestant who rings in immediately guess, "What is Queens?" (which had been ruled an incorrect response for the $600 clue, which was Brooklyn) Failing that, choose Staten Island, as those are the remaining two boroughs that have not yet been used as correct responses to clues in the category.
- Instead: First contestant to ring in says "What is Brooklyn?" even though Brooklyn had already been used as the correct response to the $600 clue. The second contestant rings in with the correct answer.
- In the Double Jeopardy! category "Queen of...." the $1,200 clue is "It was a while ago, so we'll give Longfellow a pass when he called this Ohio city "Queen of the West"."
- You'd Expect: One of the contestants to immediately guess, "What is Cincinnati?"
- Instead: First contestant (Lawanda) rings in with Columbus. Second contestant (Julia) rings in with Cleveland. Third contestant doesn't ring in at all.
- May 19, 2014: The Final Jeopardy! clue in "Board Games" is "In the classic version of Monopoly, the only two improvable properties without 'Avenue' or 'Place' in their names."
- You'd Expect: All three contestants to guess Boardwalk right away, and for the second, think of any property space on the board that is not an 'Avenue' or 'Place' space.
- Instead: All three contestants get Boardwalk right. The right contestant is unable to guess the second property, and Julia Collins (left podium from viewer's perspective) writes down "Park Place" for the second property even though the clue explicitly said the property could not have the word "Place" in the name. The middle contestant guessed both properties (Marvin Gardens is the other) correctly.
- July 8, 2014: Final Jeopardy!, and the scores are as follows: Campbell at $22,000, Maire at $11,000, and Justin at $6,800.
- You'd Expect: That, with a "lock-tie" in place, Maire would expect Campbell to bet $0 (meaning that Campbell either wins or ties no matter what happens) and thus wager everything, in hopes of tying him on a correct response.
- Instead: All three contestants get Final Jeopardy! right... and while Campbell correctly wagers $0, Maire wagers only $2,601 to lock Justin out, giving Campbell the automatic win.
- November 4, 2014: The Final Jeopardy! clue in the category "The Supreme Court" is "After Washington & FDR, he is, perhaps fittingly, the President who appointed the most Supreme Court justices."
- You'd Expect: In the worst case, guessing one of the forty-one presidents not specifically excluded by the clue.
- Instead: Not only did one contestant guess one of the excluded presidents, FDR, he crossed out the correct answer, Taft note , to do so, which cost him the win.
- December 1, 2014: On the first episode of Kids Week, the Final Jeopardy! clue in the category "TV Characters" is "This 8′2″ tall character first debuted in 1969 and is still going strong."
- You'd Expect: "Big Bird", or any character created in the past 45 years.
- Instead: The first kid guesses "Hercules" (Character from ancient Greek myth) and wagers everything. The second guesses "Goofy" (he first appeared in the early 1930s) and wagers all but $800, and the third guesses "Barney" (who first appeared in 1987 on home video but got a TV series in 1992) but only wagers $42 and comes out with the win.
- February 6, 2015: On the last quarterfinal match of the Teachers Tournament, the Final Jeopardy! clue under the category "Shakespeare" reads "After England, more Shakespeare plays are set in this present-day country than in any other."
- You'd Expect: At best, "What/Where is Italy?". Barring that, guessing any country other than England.
- Instead: Not only did the third place player write down "What is England?" as his response, he crossed out the correct response to do so. The other two contestants were correct, and both advanced, one through winning the game, the other through a wild card.
- What Makes It Worse: He wagered all $8,600 of his winnings, meaning a correct response would have made him a wild card semifinalist in the tournament. To add insult to injury, the teacher who ended up taking his wildcard spot went on to finish second in the tournament, winning $50,000, or 10 times what he wound up with.
- April 3, 2015: The category is "In Life" and the clue is "In common law, the age of this, signalling adulthood, is presumed to be 14 in boys and 12 in girls."
- You'd Expect: "What is puberty?"
- Instead: Contestant buzzes in with "What is the age of consent?". The age of consent in the United States is 18 in Hollywood, 16 in most other places, different for boys and girls absolutely nowhere, and defined by the law, not presumed. Trebek is visibly repulsed.
- It Gets Worse: Another contestant buzzes in with "What is majority?". Same issues, just a different number (18 in all but three states that set it higher).
- June 1, 2015: The "Canadian Cities" category had, predictably, frustrated everyone. But taking the cake: "Residents of this Saskatchewan city are called Moose Javians."
- You'd expect: Someone to realize that the clue reads like something right out of "Stupid Answers",note and that in most cases, such class terms are usually a variation of the actual city name, implying "Moose Jaw" might be a good guess.
- Instead: "What is Winnipeg?"
- July 24, 2015: The Final Jeopardy! clue is "This small land's airline advertises a 'stopover': 7 nights at no extra travel charge to break up a Boston-Brussels trip".
- You'd Expect: "What is Iceland?" or, go one step further, give the name of the airline, "What is Icelandair?"
- Instead: The middle and right contestants write down "What is Air Belgium?" despite the fact that Brussels is in Belgium. The left contestant gets the country right, although he doesn't get the airline name right ("Icelandic Airlines", not "Icelandair").
- November 26, 2015: The Final Jeopardy! clue reads "With a population of under 400,000, this founding member of NATO remains the smallest of the member nations".
- You'd Expect: The three contestants to remember that with the exception of the United States and Canada, the founding nations of NATO are in Europe and to choose a country that fits that criteria. Iceland at best, since it's the correct response.
- Instead: The third place contestant writes "What is Belize?" as her response.
- January 5, 2016: In a category on the names of college sports teams, the clue is simply "Crimson Tide"
- You'd Expect: The returning champion to recognize one of the most prominent teams in all of college football (Alabama).
- Instead: "What is ... Auburn?"
- January 18, 2016: Another case of how not to wager in Final Jeopardy! Contestants Mike and Claudia finish Double Jeopardy! tied for first place with $13,800 while the other contestant, Randi, has $6,000. This situation is known as a Prisoner's Dilemma, a situation in which Mike and Claudia have to predict if their tied opponent will go double-or-nothing before placing their own wagers.
- You'd Expect: At best, Randi wagers nothing, regardless of the category. She cannot overtake Mike or Claudia since she has less than half of their tied score. The only way she can win is if both her opponents bet everything and falter. If she feels confident about the category, then at the very worst, she can bet no more than $5,999 to maximize her winnings. $0 is never a winning score on Jeopardy!, a rule Alex has stated numerous times.
- Instead: Randi wagers everything and misses Final Jeopardy!, bringing her down to $0.
- To Make Matters Worse: Mike and Claudia both wager everything and they too write down incorrect responses. What results is the fourth occurrence in the Trebek era where no champion is crowned in regular game play.
- To Make Matters Even Worse: It was Martin Luther King Day, and the clue dealt with The Civil Rights Movement.
- February 1, 2016: One clue in the "Pop-Pourri" category reads "Melissa Benoist plays the charming title caped hero on this CBS series." Contestant Adam rings in.
- You'd Expect: Him to recognize the description of Supergirl, which is a new series that is all over the place in the mainstream media. (In fact, another contestant does just that after his turn, and gets it right.)
- Instead: "What is Little Red Riding Hood?"
- April 5, 2017: The Final Jeopardy! clue in the category "Sports Mascots" reads "The animal on this NBA team's primary logo peaked about 75 million years ago."
- You'd expect: The clue is clearly referencing prehistoric times, meaning that some sort of dinosaur may be a good guess. Plus, the Toronto Raptors had made the Eastern Conference final last season, so they were far from obscure at that moment in time.
- Instead: "What is a Timberwolf?"
- To Make Matters Worse: She wagered $17,200 and lost it all.
- September 27th, 2017: Sports reared their ugly head again in the category "NFL Teams by Hall of Famers", where the contestants were asked to name the team that notable NFL players had played for. No one picked it until it was the last category on the board, and all of the clues were met with silence ... until one where the clue was "Running Back Marcus Allen".
- November 20th, 2017: A clue asks for a five-word phrase alluding to what Dorothy famously says in The Wizard of Oz.
- You'd Expect: "There's no place like home" to be the response.
- Instead: The first response given is "Home Sweet Home", which is not only wrong, but only three words long.