Jeopardy! Explains A Very Controversial Question

By Nathan Kamal | 2 months ago


The venerable NBC quiz show Jeopardy! raised some eyebrows when last Friday’s episode came on air, because of a borderline tasteless question posed to contestants. In the Double Jeopardy round, a category was listed as “Bordering Russia.” During the course of running it down, host and greatest of all-time champion Ken Jennings read off the following clue: “The Kerch Strait — along with serious border issues — separates Russia from this country on the Black Sea.” The answer, as correctly given by contestant Adrian Alcalá, was “What is Ukraine.” Although this is, of course, the factual and correct answer, the current ongoing conflict caused by The Russian Federation invading the independent nation of Ukraine under the leadership of Vladimir Putin raised the appropriateness of bringing this up on a game show. 

To their credit, the producers of Jeopardy! had clearly foreseen the controversy this would cause. Prior to the episode airing, the official Jeopardy! Twitter posted this explanation:

In short, the behind-the-scenes production of an ongoing television show do not always sync up with the actual date, or for that matter, geopolitical conflicts. According to Jeopardy!, the show was recorded in January, some months before Russia invaded Ukraine, which has formally been occurring for about a week as of this date. The airing episode also had a message on screen that read “Recorded on January 11, 2022” to presumably carry the message about the difference between recording dates and broadcast dates. As a counterpoint, it could be ventured to the producers behind Jeopardy! that relations between Russia and Ukraine have been at best frosty, and at worst in open violence for literally centuries, and that the military forces of Russia have been massing at the border of Ukraine for months now. 

Of course, it is not the job of the producers of Jeopardy! to monitor the many conflicts constantly occurring on a global level and avoid any mention of anything that might make viewers uncomfortable. That said, given the ongoing and highly publicized nature of the invasion of Ukraine by Russia and the approximately 1 million Ukrainians currently fleeing the county, it is understandable how this could be viewed as possibly insensitive.

For a decades-old quiz show, Jeopardy! has found itself in controversial waters in the last several years. After the passing of beloved host and TV icon Alex Trebek due to pancreatic cancer, the show had a series of guest hosts for several months. It was generally understood that these were on-air tryouts for a permanent host and included beloved figures like superfan LeVar Burton and Ken Jennings. Ultimately, they went with Mike Richards, one of the producers of the show with relatively little experience. He stepped down after his history of controversial remarks was made public. Then once Ken Jennings and Mayim Bialik were installed as co-hosts, Bialik’s own past remarks regarding vaccinations and sexual harassment were brought back up (as were the odd way the two of them are introduced). Happily, Jeopardy! often still is a place where people can make strong and positive messages to a wide audience. Hopefully, they just think about their clues a bit more in the future.