Controversial Jeopardy! Clues That Had Fans Heated

"Jeopardy!": The show that everyone says your extremely annoying cousin ought to go on because he totally does really well at trivia night and never shuts up about it. But should this fictional cousin actually compete, and what questions should said cousin expect? Well, TriviaBliss did an informal review of all the topics that "Jeopardy!" has launched at contestants since it first aired in 1984, and some popular categories include: "American History," "Word Origins," "Science," and the for-reals "Potent Potables" (alcoholic drinks). Most of the categories' clues were delivered by former host Alex Trebek — 8,200 episodes' worth, in fact — before he died of stage 4 pancreatic cancer in 2020, per ABC7.

But for such a long-standing, beloved television institution, there's a lot about the inner workings of "Jeopardy!" that folks don't know. For instance, how does someone actually get on the show? As the show's Be on J! FAQ explains, it's complicated enough to ensure that only would-be "Jeopardy!" contestants can follow the process. There's an online test, a pool of random candidates called for an audition, and no guarantees after the audition that you'll be called onto the show.

And the questions themselves? It's even more complicated. As Vulture explains, there's a writers' room where writers collaborate before sending questions off to the head writer, who vets them through researchers. Then there are a couple more rounds of checks. But even with all this vetting, some questions are bound to irritate, upset, or outrage the general public.

What is an alligator?

Each controversial "Jeopardy!" question here touches on a sensitive issue, aired within the past couple years, and upset particular individuals. Whether or not the "Jeopardy!" production team is totally culpable, and to what extent, is up to the reader. At this point, though, we're sure that the show's writers' room is stepping on eggshells.

The first contender on the list comes from a recent edition of "Celebrity Jeopardy!" featuring Wil Wheaton, John Michael Higgins, and Joel Kim Booster. As TMZ cites, the clue read, "In 2021, fugitive Brian Laundrie ended his days in Florida's Myakkahatchee Creek area, home to these long and toothy critters." Clever readers need only need several key terms — "Florida" and "toothy critters" — to guess the question, "What is an alligator?" Do we even need the rest of the clue? Why mention Brian Laundrie or Myakkahatchee Creek at all? Why not name-drop "The Most Magical Place on Earth," Disney World? That's precisely the point.

Brian Laundrie is the former boyfriend and murderer of Gabby Petito (pictured above), a young woman whose body was discovered on September 19, 2021. She was strangled to death and deposited in a camping ground in Wyoming, per NPR. Laundrie confessed to the murder in his notebook, and then shot himself in the head in Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park in Florida. The crime is fresh, and the families still grieving. This is why the whole question, especially the "ended his days" phrase, comes across as bizarrely insensitive. 

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

What is the heart?

The next bit of anger-inducing "Jeopardy!" trivia deals with human health issues, specifically a disorder known as Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (PoTS). PoTS is a fairly common condition that affects between 1 and 3 million people in the United States alone, as the Cleveland Clinic explains. Those with PoTS have to contend with improper blood flow regulation, and can faint just by standing up too quickly, as the National Health Service describes. At worst, symptoms can be mistaken for panic attacks. PoTS doesn't have one specific cure, but there are multiple medications available to help those who have the disorder. And what causes PoTS? Well, that's where "Jeopardy!" comes in.

In June 2021, one $600 clue in the category "Plain-Named Maladies" read, "Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome is also known as Grinch syndrome because this organ is too small." Much like the Gabby Petito clue, contestants don't even need to know anything about the clue's main part — PoTS — to guess the question. If contestants know about Dr. Seuss' character the Grinch, and his undersized organ, then the question is obvious: "What is the heart?"

Shock of all shocks, this didn't settle well with folks like those at Dysautonomia International, a non-profit that supports people with autonomic nervous disorders like PoTS. On Twitter they posted, "Grinch syndrome is an offensive term. Can you imagine Jeopardy making light of cancer or MS patients with a 'funny' name for their debilitating health condition?" They've definitely got a point.

What is Ukraine?

And so we move from murder to medical conditions to the next hands-off topic: war. To be honest, this entry is less of a case of "Jeopardy!" writers trying to be excessively clever, and failing, and more of a case of bad timing. For this, we've got to think back — way, way back — to an era before February 24, 2022 when Russian President Vladimir Putin hadn't ordered the invasion of his neighbor and sovereign nation Ukraine. Back then, folks might not have even known where Ukraine was, or even what, let alone that Ukrainian comic-turned-president Volodymyr Zelenskyy could be such a supreme badass-in-chief.

Cue the March 2 edition of "Jeopardy!", which featured the category, "Bordering Russia." As the Hollywood Reporter describes, the $800 clue in question read, "The Kerch Strait — along with serious border issues — separates Russia from this country on the Black Sea." Even if Ukraine wasn't a clear choice of country right off the bat, Russia had already annexed Crimea — a part of Ukraine — in 2014, as CNBC recounts. Any contestant replying, "What is Ukraine?" would have been on point.

Lo and behold, this clue became a heckuvalot easier following February 24. Two nights after the March 2 episode aired, the official "Jeopardy!" account got on the horn and disavowed itself of guilt. It said on Twitter, "Please note the clue in today's show concerning Russia and Ukraine was recorded on Jan 11, 2022."

What is Israel?

Not that we're discounting the impact of discussions of murder, medical conditions, and war, but this last entry is truly facepalm-inducing. If talk of the Holy Land, Israel, Palestine, Jesus, and churches could do anything but rile folks up, we'd be shocked. 

Back in 2020, the category "Where's that church?" showed up on the little blue screens of "Jeopardy!", and Alex Trebek directed the following clue towards contestants for $200: "Built in the 300s A.D., the Church of the Nativity." Per NBC News, contestant Katie Needle buzzed in and replied, "What is Palestine?" Trebek said "no," and the next contestant, Jack McGuire, replied, "What is Israel?" Ding ding, he got the money. In no time at all, "Jeopardy!" was accused of wading into a geopolitical conflict just about as old as the sand of the Gaza Strip itself. This is because Israel seized land from Palestine back in 1967, as Amnesty International cites, including the location of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Church of the Nativity. This church was built on the supposed birthplace of Jesus.

Folks like Omar Baddar, deputy director of the non-profit Arab American Institute, were more than a bit miffed at "Jeopardy!" Baddar tweeted, "Unacceptable!! Bethlehem is in the Palestinian territories which Israel illegally occupies." Time quotes "Jeopardy!" producers as saying, "We became aware that the clue was flawed as written and that determining an acceptable response would be problematic."