Worst Jeopardy Call Ever! Was Winnipeg Contestant a Victim of Anti-Canadian Bias?

Things were going pretty well for Winnipeg librarian Emma Hill-Kepron early on in her February 9th appearance on the Jeopardy Champions Wildcard Tournament. Less than half way through the Jeopardy round, she buzzed in on an $800 clue in the category: ENDS IN “X”, where all responses must end in the letter “X.” Let’s roll the tape:

Hill-Kepron responded “What is circumflex?” and was initially ruled correct, putting her in second place, $600 behind Washington DC consultant Patrick Curran.

She was tied for second place with Huntington, Indiana customer success specialist Jesse Matheney going into story time, when it all started to come apart.

When Hill-Kepron pronounced the French-rooted word “circumflex,” the Canadian put a little stank on it and, to the Jep judges, it apparently sounded French. And, in French, the word “circomflexe” does not end in “X”, as the category prescribes.

Host Ken Jennings gave her the bad news at story time, right after a charming anecdote about how they put her on the jumbotron at a Jets game, taking the $800 awarded for the correct response, and dinging her another $800 for an incorrect response.

Hill-Kepron played like she was snakebitten following the ruling. She fell into negative territory during Double Jeopardy, then managed to rally out of the hole to a distant third going into Final Jeopardy.

But the Winnipeg Librarian was about to catch a break. The category for final Jeopardy: “Novel Characters.”

We didn’t get this one, and we’d wager that most of the audience playing at home didn’t either. They’re looking for “Rochester”, a love interest of the titular protagonist in 1847 Charlotte Brontë novel Jane Eyre, which is one of those books that everybody knows about, but nobody ever reads.

But you know who did read it? Winnipeg Librarian Emma Hill-Kepron!

She bet all but $7, virtually doubling her score with a correct response, and putting her in a close third place.

Leader Patrick Kern did NOT read Jane Eyre, and the big bet on a wrong clue dropped him down to $8799. Jesse Matheney also whiffed, but a smaller bet, $4,100, left him with $107 more than Hill-Kepron, and put him in the semi-finals in a squeaker.

Game chart clipped from the fan-run, nerdtastic J! Archive.

Matheny would go on to lose the group two tournament in the finals to San Francisco Waitress Deb Bilodeau, who will go on to compete in the Tournament of Champions. Whitbey, Ontario Psychiatrist Juveria Zaheer won the parallel group one of the Champions Wildcard tournament, and will also go onto compete in the Tournament of Champions, which starts next week.

Maybe she should have said it like “SUUUR-CUM-FLEX”?

The incredibly arbitrary “circumflex” ruling sent shockwaves through Canadian Jeopardy viewers, partly because it took a strong Canadian contender out of the mix, but also because everyone says it that way!

A spelling-based ruling on an oral response, means the judges are effectively inferring the spelling from a contestant’s pronunciation. If this ruling sets a precedent, it could have serious implications for contestants who speak accented English.

This viewer was making a protest sign in maple syrup and getting ready to join the growing mob, until Hill-Kepron herself chimed in on a reddit thread about the robbery to show that she’s got a lot more class than we do.

Trebek would have NEVER.

It’s hard to imagine Ottawa native and patron saint of Jeopardy! Alex Trebek delivering this ruling. He’d have shot the judge who told him about it a look, and that would have been the end of it.

Information for this briefing was found via Reuters, Globe and Mail, and the sources mentioned. The author has no securities or affiliations related to the organizations discussed. Not a recommendation to buy or sell. Always do additional research and consult a professional before purchasing a security. The author holds no licenses.

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