On Tuesday, in various corners of the sports Internet, this video made the rounds. In it, “Jeopardy!” contestant Terry McElhennon rings in to respond a clue in the “College Team Names” category. The clue simply states “Crimson Tide.” Terry mulls the question, as if he were a 19-year-old trying to pick a good wine: He knows he has to make a choice before anyone gets suspicious, but comes to the realization that he doesn’t know what he’s doing. The customer-service representative from North Carolina made the guess everyone feared he would make as soon as the pregnant pause after “What is…” hit the third trimester: Auburn.
The Auburn-Alabama rivalry is a big deal. It can rip apart families, turn grown men into crying sacks of rage, and even lead people to commit arborcide. So, as one can imagine, this mistake didn’t go unheard.
A Vine of this incident shot past the million-loop mark, as news of this catastrophic error quickly spread to Tuscaloosa and beyond. ESPN’s Chris Fowler said Terry should have been excused from the stage. Twitter user and Crimson Tide fan Mikeyy_D3 eloquently used a meme to call this the “stupidest thing he had read all day.” Alex Trebek hinted at the possibility of retribution from “University of Alabama people.” Heck, even the Vine itself is titled “This is how you get choked by a stranger.” The backlash is incredible. But all of it, every little bit of it, is undeserved.
I’m a college football fan, and I respect this rivalry immensely. But I’m also a trivia nerd and “Jeopardy!” champion, and from being on the show, I can tell you that in one clue, anything can happen, and that whether or not Terry knows anything about sports cannot be gleaned from this one question.
Terry was basically jumped. The question was the first chosen from the category, and Terry probably wasn’t expecting a two-word clue. He had just a few seconds to put his thoughts together. Unless that crimson script “A” was etched into your mind from birth, that’s an easy mistake to make, with added pressure from stage lights, cameras, and a Canadian septuagenarian.
And Terry’s a smart dude. He’d go on to lose this game, but he came in as a retuning champion, and would go on to answer questions about David Mamet, sensory deprivation, and a movie in which Charlton Heston plays a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. He only missed two other questions in the game. So I really want to think that he knew the answer, and that he just cracked under the pressure.
Just like we put so much pressure on our athletes and coaches to succeed, we have unrealistic expectations of our game-show contestants. We live in a day when it seems like there’s a new viral video every day, a new opportunity to poke fun at some poor schmuck. “Jeopardy!” has been a common source for these moments as of late, taking advantage of people who run the risk of ridicule just to make a few thousand dollars, if they’re lucky.
So Terry, if you read this, hold your head high. Did you look dumb in front of 10 million Americans? Kind of, I guess. But if you’re one of the dozens of viewers incensed by this minor mental error, then I think you need to take a few moments to really reflect on what’s important, and see if directing vitriol at a guy who said the wrong college is really the best use of your time, mind, or dignity. And maybe stick to “Wheel of Fortune” from now on.
Raynell Cooper is a writer, trivia ace, and “Jeopardy!” host-in-waiting. You should follow him on Twitter.