On October 12, 2009, Jeff Kirby appeared on
Jeopardy!. He finished the game with $300, in third place against carryover champion
Terry Linwood, and won $1,000 for his troubles. Now what's so special about a contestant
who finished Final Jeopardy! with $300 that I would bother to write a
column about him?
On December 8, 1999, Jeff Kirby appeared on Jeopardy!. He finished the
$3400, in third place. He won a Polaroid Digital Camera and photography
kit for his troubles.
Most game shows have eligibility requirements. Typically you cannot have
appeared on another game show within a year of your previous appearance.
Typically, shows will also require that you cannot have been on two-in-five-years
or three-in-ten. But the big requirement is that you cannot have
appeared on the same show before; you show up, you play, they're done
with you. (Recently, The Price is Right amended
their rules to say that if you haven't appeared in the last ten years,
you can have another go.)
Game shows have systems in place to catch repeat players; you have to
give information like your Social Security and driver's license number.
According to Jeopardy!, Mr. Kirby gave false information in order to
procure another spot on the show. Jeopardy! had no idea that they had
been snookered; it was only when they were told by alert viewers that
Jeff Kirby had been a contestant previously that they took action.
(Apparently he wore the same tie as in his first appearance. Whether
that was the piece de resistance, I don't know.)
Jeopardy! said that because Jeff finished in third place, it didn't
affect the outcome. They're right, and they're wrong. Sure, Terry kept
his crown and continued to rack up over $100,000.
But someone out there lost their chance to play.
As long as I've been
watching game shows, I dreamed of being a contestant. To question the
answers, solve the puzzles or spin the big wheel. I took the test to get
a spot across from Meredith Vieira, and didn't make it past the test. My
name didn't come out of the hopper to try out for Wheel of Fortune. But
someone out there was one step away from hearing their name called by
Johnny Gilbert as they look into the camera as millions of people watch
The very first contestant on Super Millionaire, Todd Kim, similarly
hedged his bets. After winning $500,000 on the hyper-stakes version of
Millionaire, Kim appeared on Jeopardy! and won consolation money. He
probably figured that if he didn't get out of the Fastest Finger circle,
he'd "refuse the prize" and take whatever he got on Jeopardy!. But that's
not how it happened. He similarly robbed another prospective contestant
of his shot at fame and fortune, however modest they may be.
I can only imagine how disappointing it would be that you get on a game
show and don't get out of Contestant's Row. Or don't solve a puzzle. Or
to finish in the red on Jeopardy. I bet those who were mowed down by Ken
Jennings would love a chance to play again. But that's why the rules are
in place; to give as many people as possible their day in the sun.
I'm more disappointed in Mr. Kirby than I am in Jeopardy!'s production
staff. Sure, they were only able to catch the guy because some superfan
said "Hey, I think he's been on the show before!". But Jeff took the
affirmative step to cheat the system and get on the show again
For shame, sir. For shame.
Travis Eberle will continue to watch Jeopardy! for years to come, but he
doesn't want to see anymore repeat offenders. Drop him a line at
firstname.lastname@example.org if you want some betting pointers.