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The Obscure Rules Got These 'Jeopardy!' Contestants A Second Chance

Growing up, I watched Groundhog’s Day about a million times. My favorite part about watching movies when I was younger was imagining what I would do if I was in Bill Murray’s situation reliving my life again and again and again.

The film did an amazing job of playing out all of the mundane scenarios involving daily reincarnation. But my favorite part is Bill Murray’s deadpan delivery of crushing absolutely every single Jeopardy! answer while his fellow Bed and Breakfast mates looked on in horror.

Whenever I watch Jeopardy!, I think of that movie. In fact, I kind of hated all game shows, except for The Price is Right before watching Groundhog’s Day — it made me actually appreciate Alex Trebek and his throwback mustache.

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Now if you’re a Jeopardy! fanatic, then you’re probably aware of all the show’s rules, but there are a few not-so-known ones that even the most avid watchers would appreciate.

Which brings us to Ryan Fenster, a 4-game winner who’s returning to the show after questioning an answer incorrectly.

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Fenster’s last game saw the bespectacled contestant faced with a Double Jeopardy! question worth $ 1,200. The answer was “St. Thomas died traveling to Lyon, France while attempting to heal this rift between the Latin & Greek churches.” 

Fenster answered, “What is the Great Schism?” which was ruled as wrong.

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Fenster’s dismissal after answering the question incorrectly caught the attention of Matthew Sherman, who started his career working with the Jeopardy! team some 13 years ago as a researcher. 

Sherman now works on mobile game versions of the show, but he still pays attention to each episode and Fenster’s “Great Schism” question troubled him, because Sherman was quite sure that was the answer.

“I was watching the show that day and I saw that question come up. And I also thought the response was ‘Great Schism.'”

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After heading to Google, Sherman discovered that Fenster was indeed, correct. ‘The Great Schism’ could refer to the East-West Schism of 1054, but also the Western Schism of 1378, which was Fenster’s Double Jeopardy! question.

“I thought that was curious, so I emailed Billy Wisse, the head writer over at Jeopardy!,” Sherman said. Wisse contacted Sherman after reviewing the clue in question, and welcomed Fenster back on the show to get a crack at winning his fifth straight Jeopardy! contest and officially joining the hallowed ranks of ‘Streaker.’ 

Not that kind of streaker, you pervs.

Now Fenster isn’t the first contestant in Jeopardy! history to be brought back onto the show.

India Cooper, 1991

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Cooper was brought back after answering a Shakespeare question “incorrectly.” The clue? “The name of the character who says, ‘The evil that men do lives after them’.” India was brought back after the faulty clue and won 5 games after the show discovered its error.

Tom Morris, 2008

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Tom ended up losing to Paul Thomas in game #5454 in 2008, but when Paul was allowed extra time to write his answer down after his tablet malfunctioned, Morris was invited back on because the hiccup caused him a disadvantage.

Ashley Wilson, 2015

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This Final Jeopardy! clue did Wilson in: “The first woman space shuttle pilot shares this surname with a man on the 1st manned lunar landing 26 years earlier.” She bet all of her money on the clue and ended up coming in last place. However, upon further review, the show’s judges informed Trebek that there was a problem with the phrasing of the question. At the end of the episode he said, “Our bad, folks. Today’s Final Jeopardy! should have referred to the entire Apollo 11 mission rather than to just the lunar landing part of it. We feel that Ashley might have been disadvantaged and so we have invited her to return to play again later this week.”

She came back to the show to win on December 31st, 2015.

Vincent Valenzuela, 2018

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A spelling error got Valenzuela invited back on the show. The Final Jeopardy! question was supposed to read “this” and not “his,” which could’ve been responsible for Valenzuela’s incorrect response. It was reported that he was invited back on the show.

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