Can You Get ‘Final Jeopardy!’ Right But Still Lose If You Misspelled The Answer?

We were catching up on the 2022 Tournament of Champions when we came across an interesting moment during one episode’s Final Jeopardy! round. Semifinalist Tyler Rhode answered a question correctly, but his spelling was just a little bit off. As it turned out, Rhode wagered $0 on the guess, so his misspelling ultimately didn’t matter. However, the incident got us thinking—just how much does spelling count in the Final Jeopardy! round? Well. we did the research; here’s what we found out.

Tyler Rhode Failed To Cash Out

During the Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions, semifinalists Tyler Rhode and Maureen O’ Neil took on Super Champion Amy Schneider. Both trivia whizzes competed admirably, however, Schneider turned out to be a force to be reckoned with throughout the entire tournament. Of course, Schneider—who possesses the second-longest winning streak in the show’s history—took home the ultimate victory. Yet, we’re still thinking about her semifinal round for a very technical reason.

The game’s Final Jeopardy! round posed the following question: “A trip to El Paso with his young son & wondering what the city might look like years in the future inspired a novel by this author.”

Schneider answered correctly by writing “Cormac McCarthy,” however she didn’t seem very confident in the answer. She only wagered $64 but claimed victory with $19,664. O’Neil didn’t have a guess in mind, but she lost nothing by wagering $0. However, Rhode did guess correctly, although he misspelled McCarthy’s name. Rhode wrote, “Who is Cormac McCarthey,” inserting an “e” into the famous author’s name.

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Ken Jennings didn’t note the misspelling, initially ruling his answer correct. However, Rhode wagered $0 on his guess. That got us thinking, would his answer have incited controversy if he had wagered more money? Would fans have blasted Jennings for missing the typo? Well, we did some research to find out just how much spelling matters in Final Jeopardy!.

Do You Have To Have Perfect Spelling On ‘Jeopardy!’?

As it turns out, you don’t have to spell your Final Jeopardy! answer perfectly to have it considered correct. According to the official Jeopardy! website, the game is in pronunciation. “Jeopardy! is not a spelling test—unless, of course, the category requires it,” the guideline reads. “Written responses to the Final Jeopardy! clue do not have to be spelled correctly, but they must be phonetically correct and not add or subtract any extraneous sounds or syllables.”

So, in Rhode’s case, his answer passed the sound test. His extraneous “e” didn’t change the way the correct answer sounded, and therefore it was considered correct. As it turns out, most contestants succeed in getting their answers to at least sound right even if they aren’t spelling bee champs. However, there are other times when little errors get big responses from the Jeopardy! fan base. In June of 2022, Mayim Bialik dismissed a contestant’s answer because her handwriting made it difficult to read. Then, in October, fans noticed that the show’s clue writers actually made a grievous spelling error.

Spelling Mistakes Have Caused Uproars In The Past

However, while they’re extremely rare, there have been cases where an answer has been controversially ruled incorrect over a spelling error. In the 2013 edition of Jeopardy!‘s Kids Week, eighth-grader Thomas Hurley misspelled his otherwise correct answer (“Emanciptation Proclamation” versus “Emancipation Proclamation”), leading Alex Trebek and the judges to rule against him. The mistake ultimately cost Hurley $3,000 and incited a good deal of controversy.

Many argued that, since it was a kids’ game and everyone knew what he meant, they should have just let him have it—especially since it wouldn’t have changed the outcome of the game. At the time, CNN called the ruling the “Saddest Moment in ‘Jeopardy!’ History.”

Overall, prospective Jeopardy! contestants can breathe a sigh of relief to know that you don’t have to have perfect spelling to win big. However, if you are a spelling expert, you, unfortunately, won’t get extra points for perfect spelling!

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