Bizarre things that happened on the set of Jeopardy

Most game shows are flashy and embrace style over substance. There's Cash Cab with its strobe-light covered taxi, Deal or No Deal with its army of briefcase holding models, and Wheel of Fortune with its massive, noisy, cash-granting wheel of fortune. Jeopardy! isn't like the other game shows. 

Airing under the steady hand of host Alex Trebek since 1984, Jeopardy! is a game show where smart people can show off everything they know, and win prizes for it. There's little more to the average Jeopardy! episode than three contestants whipping through two rounds of 30 questions each, plus a "Final Jeopardy," Trebek pointedly reminding players all the while to phrase their response in the form of a question. But every now and then, Jeopardy! lets its hair down — or submits to the chaotic nature of the universe — and the well-oiled game show machine starts to collapse in on itself to hilarious effect. Here are some of the weirdest moments in Jeopardy! history.

The T in T-Pain is for Trebek

Jeopardy! producers and writers like to mix up the format once in a while. A stunt category can generate viral acclaim or even elicit a chuckle or two from some of the show's notoriously serious-minded contestants. Sometimes Jeopardy! enlists a celebrity (on video) to read the clues, and they employed those eager, young, fresh-faced members of the "Clue Crew" for a few years. But no format-breaking stunt will ever be as fun or weird as Alex Trebek singing familiar nursery rhymes (and other songs in the public domain) with his voice treated by Auto-Tune. 

Yes, that odd robotic voice effect utilized on so many early 2000s hip-hop songs (particularly those of T-Pain), made its way to Jeopardy in 2010. Contestants correctly guessed all five entries in the "Alex Meets Auto-Tune" category, in which Trebek creepily sang passages from "The Farmer in the Dell," "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," and "Danny Boy," accompanied by a series of sick beats. Trebek clearly enjoyed this lark, commenting upon its conclusion, "You know I sound that way everyday when I'm not hosting Jeopardy!"

Put on some pants, Trebek

Jeopardy! hosts a lot of special theme weeks: Kids Week, the College Championship, the Tournament of Champions. In 2005, the show raised the stakes with its first ever Ultimate Tournament of Champions. This was a way to get 74-time winner Ken Jennings back on the show for a few high-profile episodes, and in a special three-game final, he squared off for forever Jeopardy! bragging rights against fellow champions Brad Rutter and Jerome Vered. The winner took home an astounding $2 million. 

That turned the already stressful Jeopardy! stage into a nerve-wracking pressure cooker for Jennings, Rutter, and Vered, and during the final three-game stand, the three guys concocted a unique way to relieve stress: they'd play the game free of the burden of pants. When host Alex Trebek found out about it, he thought it would be a fun way to show solidarity, and so, when he came out onto the Jeopardy! stage at the top of the episode, he did so without pants, his shirt hanging down over his underwear and his black socks pulled all the way up and kept there with garters. 

"I was informed backstage a few minutes ago that our three contestants, Ken, Brad, and Jerome, wanted to relieve some of the tension, and they said we must do the program without trousers." Trebek asked the crew to get a shot of contestants behind their podiums to prove he wasn't just some pantsless nut... only for the cameraman to reveal that the contestants had not actually removed their pants. You got pranked, Trebek.

There can be only one

A March 2015 episode of Jeopardy! was one of those games where one player runs the board and it's a foregone conclusion that they're going to win the whole thing. On this occasion, it was returning champion Kristin Sausville, who laid waste to competitors Brad and Stephanie. By the time "Double Jeopardy" ended and "Final Jeopardy" was ready to begin, Brad had amassed negative $200, and Stephanie racked up negative $6,800. Per Jeopardy! rules, they were ineligible to compete in the game's final round. That left Kristin playing unopposed with an unimpeded path to victory and a big cash prize. 

Starting out with $8,400, Kristin faced this "Final Jeopardy" clue: "On Aug. 15, 1994, 59 years & 1 day after FDR signed the original act, Bill Clinton made this an independent agency." Rounding out a day of futility, Kristin got it wrong, writing "The FDIC" instead of the correct response, the Social Security Administration. Fortunately, she bet a conservative $1,600 and took home $6,800 for the day. All in all, it was "not one of our greatest days," as host Alex Trebek quipped.

Everyone's a loser

The "Final Jeopardy" category for a January 2016 Jeopardy! episode: State Capitals. The "Final Jeopardy" clue: "A 1957 event led to the creation of a natl. historic site in this city, signed into law by a pres. whose library is now there too." The correct response: Little Rock, Arkansas (home of the Bill Clinton Presidential Library). While that question was awkwardly presented, the real weirdness went down after each of the three Jeopardy! contestants revealed their replies and learned their final cash tallies. 

Heading into this last round, players Mike and Claudia were tied with $13,800 each, with Randi pulling up the rear at $6,000. Unfortunately for Randi, she'd bet everything, and lost everything, because her reply ("Springfield") was wrong. But then, viewers learned, Mike and Claudia had followed the same trajectory: betting everything on an incorrect scribble ("Atlanta" and "Austin," respectively). That left the game in a three-way tie for first place — or last place — with all three players registering $0. There was no returning champion on the next episode.

This is so not Coolio

No disrespect to the man who took music enthusiasts on a "Fantastic Voyage," but when Coolio became the center of a Jeopardy!-related pedantic storm in 2017, it was the first time since the mid-'90s that the rapper made headlines. 

On the episode in question, a contestant named Nick Spicher selected "Music & Literature Before & After" for $1,600. The category required contestants to provide the same of a song and a famous written work that were connected by a word. The clue: "A song by Coolio from Dangerous Minds goes back in time to become a 1667 John Milton classic." The correct reply: "Gangsta's Paradise Lost." But that's not what Spichler said. Apparently not familiar with the unique vagaries of hip-hop slang, he confidently answered, "What is Gangster's Paradise Lost?" 

Spichler was awarded his $1,600 and the game continued... but then judges reversed the decision. "The hard R sound caught the ear of one member of the onstage team, who immediately followed up with a quick check," a member of the Jeopardy! staff explained on the show's website. "It turns out that 'gangsta' and 'gangster' are both listed separately in the Oxford English Dictionary, each with its own unique definition." Fortunately, Spichler went on to win the game, while Coolio kept spending most his life living in a gangster's — sorry, gangsta's paradise.

A whole new dimension of Jeopardy!

Alex Trebek makes with the occasional cameo appearance. In what's certainly his most bonkers guest star role to date, he voiced an animated version of himself on the 2006 Family Guy episode "I Take Thee, Quagmire." In one of the show's signature cutaway gags, the audience sees Mayor Adam West's experience as a contestant on Jeopardy! Rather than give a proper response to the "Final Jeopardy" clue, Mayor West writes "Kebert Xela," which Trebek reads aloud... and in a flash of orange light while screaming, the host disappears. An unflappable Mayor West explains, "Only saying his name backwards can send him back to the Fifth Dimension, where he belongs."

On a 2007 Jeopardy! episode, returning champion Jared Cohen entered "Final Jeopardy" with just $1, and thus he had no way of winning the game. Rather than actually answer the clue about lighthouses, he wrote down, "What is Kebert Xela?" Trebek immediately realized Cohen had spelled his name backward, which led to this exchange, although they were nearly drowned out by the laughter of the few audience members who got the reference. "I heard that sends you back to another dimension," Cohen mentions. "Sends me back where?" Trebek asks. "Another dimension," Cohen repeats. "To another dimension. Yes, I will go back to another dimension as soon as we deal with the other players," Trebek quipped.

Rise of the machines

Sure, the human contestants who play and win Jeopardy! are smart. But even the most intelligent human beings are limited — a person can't know everything, and even if they did, they'd have to be gifted with the ability of instant and accurate recall to absolutely dominate on Jeopardy! In other words, they'd have to be a computer. 

In February 2011, a literal computer appeared on Jeopardy! In a special three-episode miniseries pitting two extremely smart humans against a mighty robotic brain, the IBM-built, fake-voiced Watson supercomputer squared off against Jeopardy! all-time greats Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. Taped at IBM's T.J. Watson Research Laboratory in New York in front of a select audience of IBM employees and clients, Watson quickly dominated his fleshy competition. 

After the first game, Watson and Rutter tied for first; by the end of the second game, Watson had racked up $35,734, more than triple Rutter's second-place earnings. When it was all over on day three, Watson was the uncontested champion, winning $77,147 against Rutter's $21,600 and Jennings' $24,000. Alongside his "Final Jeopardy" response, Jennings scribbled, "I for one welcome our new computer overlords," a reference to a line on The Simpsons that cowardly newsman Kent Brockman says when he fears giant ants have invaded Earth.

Jeopardy! isn't kidding around

Jeopardy! held a special "Kids Week" in 2013, a place for smarty-pants kids to try their hand at answering trivia questions under the hot lights of a TV studio while millions of people watched them at home. No pressure. But while this was a contest for kids, it wasn't easy — and the judges held the tween players to its impossibly high standards. Hey, maybe it builds character; we can only hope it did for poor Thomas Hurley

In the final "Final Jeopardy" of the tournament, contestants received this clue: "Abraham Lincoln called this document, which took effect in 1863, 'A fit and necessary war measure.'" That's the Emancipation Proclamation, of course, and that's what Thomas Hurley wrote down on his electronic screen. Well, that's what he obviously tried to write — he misspelled the first word, presenting his response as "Emanciptation Proclamation." 

Host Alex Trebek was casually ruthless about young Hurley's error. "That's unfortunate," he said. "The judges are ruling against you." Hurley lost the $3,000 he bet, taking his score down too $6,600. Contestant Skyler Hornback also wrote down the correct response, but spelled it the right way, winning $66,600. Even if Hurley's answer had been ruled valid, he wouldn't have been able to beat Hornback, but it's still just a very harsh moment.

Three's a crowd

Jeopardy! may air in the family-friendly pre-primetime hours in most regions, but it's not always suitable for children. Contestants will occasionally blurt out a salacious, sexually-charged, or mildly profane word — it's probably a function of having to read and hear clues fast, find the information in the brain, buzz in, and deliver it vocally all in a second or two, or at least before the two other contestants can. The filter flies off in the rush of a rapid-fire game show, in other words. It's a little surprising that one woman's randy response to a Jeopardy! clue wasn't censored

Trebek read the following: "If Andy yearns for Brenda & Brenda cares about Charlene who pines for Andy, the 3 of them form one of these." Contestant Kara Spak speedily buzzed in, and with more than a hint of incredulity in her voice, responded, "What is a threesome?" The audience tittered, she cringed, and another contestant provided the correct answer (or question): "What is a love triangle?" Forever quick on his feet, Trebek joked, "Kara has obviously had much more experience than I." Oh, Alex.

Right show, wrong guy

Jeopardy! is Alex Trebek, and Alex Trebek is Jeopardy! While the sometimes-mustached Canadian hosting idol has captained other game shows (Classic Concentration, The Wizard of Odds), he'll forever be linked with the show he hosted since 1984. It's strange to think of somebody else saying "Oh, sorry," to wrong-answering contestants or "Yes, pick again!" to correct-answering ones, but other men have tread into Trebek's territory. Art Fleming hosted the original Jeopardy! in the '60s and '70s, but the truly baffling Trebek-free occasion occurred in 1997.

Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! run back-to-back on many local TV stations, and it must have seemed strange when they got just slightly mixed up. Trebek helmed an episode of Wheel of Fortune, while that show's regular host, Pat Sajak, stepped into Trebek's shoes over on Jeopardy! What's the meaning of this? These episodes aired on April 1, 1997 — April Fool's Day.

Fooling around

Nearly two decades after pulling the greatest host switcheroo in night-time game show history, Jeopardy! once again fully embraced the spirit of April Fool's Day. For its April 1, 2016 episode, producers loaded the half-hour show with a whopping 10 Easter eggs. As neither host Alex Trebek nor announcer Johhny Gilbert (nor any of the contestants) made any mention of the zaniness afoot, it was up to viewers to spot each and every joke.

Here's a sampling. When Trebek walked out on stage to begin the episode, the show recycled footage of Trebek's famous pantsless entrance from 2015. When a contestant named Oliver uncovered a first-round "Daily Double," all the players' scores briefly appeared backward. After a commercial break, the "JEOPARDY!" slug at the bottom of the screen read "JEPARDY!" When Trebek asked contestant Todd to select a clue, IBM supercomputer (and Jeopardy! champion) Watson briefly appeared as "Todd." And in that sweet spot where fun prank and fan-service meet, Trebek appeared in some scenes still wearing his famous mustache, which he'd otherwise shaved off years earlier.