After Kelly Donohue’s third Jeopardy! win, the contestant made a hand gesture used by white supremacist groups. It is unclear whether he knew what this hand gesture meant, and there is reason to believe it may have signified his third win on the show. However, 467 people claiming to be past contestants have signed onto a letter published on Medium wanting an apology from the show’s producers for not catching the hand gesture in the aired episode.
On the Tuesday April 27, 2021 episode of Jeopardy, Kelly Donohue held up three fingers. In the United States, we typically do this by crossing our thumb and pinky fingers over the palm. However, in Tuesday’s episode, Donohue connected his thumb to his forefinger, held his palm to his midsection, and tapped a few times. This is a hand signal used by alt-right groups, white power groups, and an anti-government group that calls themselves the Three Percenters.
Did Donohue know the meaning behind this hand gesture? That’s entirely unclear and the former Jeopardy! contestants don’t suggest that he knew what he was doing in their letter. They are quick to point out that on his first and second wins, Donohue did signal to count “one” and “two” for this wins. However, the former contestants do feel that it would have been more appropriate for Donohue to publicly address the incident once it was pointed out. Many people who accidentally made a gesture used by white power groups on international television would want to come forward and clarify that they do not support those movements. Donohue has stayed silent, which doesn’t sit well with the former contestants.
However, actions from Kelly Donohue are not what the former contestants are focused on. They are focused on the follow-up actions of Jeopardy! producers. Since production has a history of catching these events, why didn’t they catch this one? The former contestants suggest that production should apologize for airing the hand gesture and make policy changes so they will do better catching hand signals like this before airing them in the future.
The hand gesture itself that the Jeopardy! contestant held out to count the number three is very odd. It’s not the way most Americans count the number three with their fingers.
Many of us were made more aware of the way different cultures use specific hand signals for numbers after the movie Inglorious Basterds. In a key scene where our American characters are infiltrating a German Nazi bar, the characters were discovered to be American after one of them held up three fingers to order a beer, using the typical American hand gesture for the number three. The movie suggested that Germans hold down their pinky and ring fingers, holding their palms out toward the other person. Culturally, this is a thing we pick up and do differently around the world. But the way Donohue counted on his fingers stood out as unusual, and something the producers have policies that indicate they should have been more aware.
As Jeopardy! is a show where people are participating in a game quickly, it’s not uncommon for inappropriate things to be said, even unintentionally. The contestants acknowledged this in their letter. However, it has been the job of the show’s producers to catch these things. The past contestants point out that they have been a part of episodes on multiple occasions where such changes have been made. For example, in a past taping, a contestant guessed a monetary amount that consisted of numbers used by a white supremacist group. Since the answer didn’t affect the outcome, the producers digitally altered those numbers before the episode aired. These kinds of adjustments keep the show from supporting white supremacist values to an international audience.
The hand gesture wasn’t the only recent issue the letter points out. On the Monday, April 26, 2021 episode, the night before the hand gesture one, Kelly Donohue used the slur for the Roma people. This term is still fairly commonly used and the general public remains widely unaware of how offensive the term is or the struggles Romani people are facing, so it doesn’t mean that Donohue was necessarily attempting to be cruel. The Host of this episode was Anderson Cooper and he corrected the language in the episode. However, in other episodes, the contestants who wrote the letter say they have witnessed moments like these be refilmed, and they ask that the show make that adjustment in future episodes surrounding this word.
Hopefully, the Jeopardy! producers will respond to the open letter soon. They recently claimed to be good at listening to what their “passionate fans” like when they brought on LeVar Burton as a guest host on the show. Hopefully bringing in better policies to catch gestures with such violent meaning will be something the longstanding show considers a priority.