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‘Jeopardy!’ Host Alex Trebek Faces Backlash For Humiliating Kid Contestant on TV

Kelly Woo
omg! TV
August 6, 2013

Alex Trebek is in a bit of social media jeopardy.

The longtime host of "Jeopardy!" is facing backlash from Facebook and Twitter users over his treatment of a 12-year-old's spelling error on a special kids edition of the game show last week.

Thomas Hurley III, an 8th grader from Newtown, Conn., says he was cheated out of $3,000 after he misspelled "Emancipation Proclamation" during the Final Jeopardy round.

The answer had been, "Abraham Lincoln called this document, which took effect in 1863, 'a fit and necessary war measure.'"

[Related: The 10 Best Celebrity Game Show Freak-Outs]

Hurley spelled the word "emanciptation" (with an extra "T"), and Trebek said he "misspelled it badly" and said the judges ruled his response incorrect. The boy hung his head, and seemed to mouth the word "what?" Then, the host noted that winner Skyler Hornback's response was spelled correctly. The decision did not affect the game's outcome; Hornback had an insurmountable lead.

Still, Hurley is upset that he lost $3,000 over an extra letter. "I was pretty upset that I was cheated out of the final 'Jeopardy!' question. It was just a spelling error," he told the Danbury News-Times.

His father is angrier, saying Trebek "basically humiliated" his son on television.

"Alex Trebek was really sort of callous and smug, kind of condescending towards my son," he told radio host Fran Schneidau.

The response from "Jeopardy!" fans was heated, with people falling on both sides. Some praised the show and Trebek for adhering to the rules, but many others blasted the host for his "smug" attitude.

[Related: Who's Replacing Alex Trebek on 'Jeopardy!'?]

"The kid wouldn't have won either way — but that's not the point," Katie Wanta wrote on the "Jeopardy!" Facebook page. "The way Alex handled the situation was the issue, imo. He didn't need to go beyond 'it was spelled wrong and ruled incorrect, sorry' he didn't need to make a dig that the winner spelled things correctly and embarrass the poor kid for his mistake."

Another viewer, Aymee Harvey Combs, chimed in, "I understand that rules are rules and with that being said.......I thought the way Alex handle the situation was terrible........He appeared as a pretentious SNOB stating the word was misspelled badly.........they are kids for goodness sakes!!!!!!"

Trebek hasn't spoken out about Hurley's treatment, but "Jeopardy!" producers defended their decision in an email to media.

"If 'Jeopardy!' were to give credit for an incorrect response (however minor), the show would effectively penalize the other players," they wrote. "We love presenting young people as contestants on our show and make every effort to be fair and consistent in their treatment."

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