Times Alex Trebek Was Really Rude To Jeopardy Contestants

Who is Alex Trebek? Since 1984, he's been hosting the insanely popular quiz show Jeopardy! (per Biography), and he's become so knitted into the fabric of American culture that he's been routinely parodied by the likes of Saturday Night Live and has even appeared on The Simpsons and Family Guy. But the television veteran, who once told Esquire that "a good education and a kind heart will get you through life in pretty good shape," isn't always of "kind heart" while presiding over his show. Truth be told, the Ontario-born TV star can be downright rude. 

While his off-the-cuff remarks have occasionally sparked controversy (and even charges of sexism), Trebek is also widely adored, with The Atlantic describing him as "blisteringly intelligent," and GQ calling him "one of the greatest villains pop culture has ever known." With that in mind, let's look at some of Trebek's most dastardly on-screen deeds to date. 

We'll take "Trebek's Rudest N' Crudest" for $300, Alex.

In Jeopardy!, there are no losers. Except Susan.

At first glance, this looked like your standard "Meet The Contestants" segment, all polite chit-chat and by-the-books banter. But in this particular October 2016 episode of Jeopardy!, contestant Susan Cole unwittingly summoned the entity that Today affectionately calls "Mean Alex Trebek." After Cole opened up about her highly individualistic taste in music, Trebek decided to dole out some rather harsh judgement — in four persuasively persnickety words. 

The exchange began innocently enough. "It's called nerdcore hip-hop," Cole shared. She explained the obscure genre as "people who identify as nerdy, rapping about the things they love: Video games, science fiction, having a hard time meeting romantic partners. It's really catchy and fun!" After a beat, Trebek responded, "Losers, in other words."  

As The AV Club reported, the quiz show host didn't quite get the last word here. A sleeper cell of angry nerds subsequently produced a nerdcore anthem in the hopes of taking Trebek down a peg. While we recommend enjoying the track "Who Is Alex Trebek?" — and its accompanying video — in its entirety, we would be remiss not to provide this sample lyric: "Call us losers, then backtrack it / like you didn't really mean it / on a show that's made for geeks / What, you think we wouldn't see it?"

Ryan Fenster didn't know his football

Over the course of his decades-long career, Alex Trebek hasn't given a single Jeopardy! contestant a wedgie, but he appeared to come awfully close in one episode from February 2018.

As The AV Club reports, Trebek rather mercilessly teased contestant Ryan Fenster for his complete and utter lack of knowledge regarding football. (Fenster wasn't alone: None of the three contestants made a single guess in the category.) After Fenster failed to answer the first trivia item, Trebek jeered, "I can tell you guys are big football fans." The second piece of trivia — regarding the team in which Tom Landry "perfected the shotgun formation" — was met with more blank stares. "Dallas cowboys," clucked Trebek.

Evidently ready to throw up his hands, Trebek sniped, "Do you think we should go to commercial?" After all three contestants fumbled two more times, the talk show host quipped, "Let's look at the $1,000 clue, just for the fun of it."

Once that clue was out in the open, Trebek's derision finally reached its apex: "If you guys ring in and get this one, I will die."

Trebek taunted this poor music journalist

In a February 2010 episode of Jeopardy!, contestant Lindsay Eanet from Deerfield, Ill. was more than happy to tell Alex Trebek why she was pursuing a career in music journalism. And Alex Trebek was more than happy to undermine her projected career path.

Trebek began by grilling Eanet with, "Your major is journalism, and you chose journalism because of a movie?" Eanet nodded, adding, "That's right, Alex. I chose journalism as a freshman in high school. I watched the movie Almost Famous and just fell in love with it and I wanted to do what William Miller did in the movie." Trebek asked, "And what did he do?" Perhaps a bit perplexed, Eanet responded, "Uh, wrote about music and followed bands." 

"He followed a rock band," Trebek emphasized. "So you wanna be a groupie, in other words?" Eanet replied, "I wouldn't put it quite like that, but I think ... seeing what that lifestyle is like, I think that would be very interesting." After a beat, Trebek looked into the camera and offered his final assessment: "She wants to be a groupie."

Many viewers didn't find the exchange amusing. For example, The L Magazine decided that "Alex Trebek Hates Women." Recalling the episode in an interview with the fan-created J! Archive, Eanet didn't sound too pleased, either: "Why is every girl with an active interest in music and the rock 'n' roll lifestyle automatically a groupie? Why can't I be a rockstar?"

Trebek: Mean about memes

How do you think you'd fare with this particular Jeopardy! clue? "In a hint of the future, in 1973 Marjorie Post gave it to the U.S. government as a warm-weather presidential retreat, but it was returned."

If you just bellowed, "What is Mar-a-Lago?" into your screen, congrats: That's the correct answer, and you'd probably be a decent Jeopardy! competitor. Also, your name probably isn't Erik Agard, a contestant from Gaithersburg, Md. who appeared on Jeopardy! in October 2018 ... and who clearly didn't have the foggiest idea what to write down (via HuffPost). In lieu of hazarding a guess, Agard jotted down a smart-alecky meme instead. Agard scrawled, "What is you doing baby?" (According to PopSugar, that meme originated with Internet pranksters Nick Joseph and Dan Rue.)

We aren't sure whether Trebek knew of this particular meme or its storied history. All we know is: He was having none of it. In response to Agard's wholly rhetorical question, he responded, "Well, I'm responding incorrectly! And I'm going to lose a thousand dollars." As The Daily Dot pointed out, Agard still managed to win that round of Jeopardy! while demonstrating he was, in the parlance of one Twitter denizen, "the spiciest memelord" in all the land. That's the dream.

"That must be really tough for a woman"

This was a bad one. During a December 2017 episode of Jeopardy!, a back-and-forth between Alex Trebek and contestant Lisa Beth Davis instantly earned the wrath of a vengeful Internet, with scores of upset viewers storming social media to call Trebek "sexist" (per AOL). Honestly, people had good reason to be upset: Trebek's comments about Davis' former job —  she's a retired Army Master Sergeant — sound like they came from the uncle that everybody has and nobody wants. "That must be really tough for a woman," he said, "because a Master Sergeant is giving orders most of the time. How was it for you?" Davis answered, "I'm pretty bossy. I'm the oldest, so I know how to tell people what to do."

Davis' response was even-keeled, but Twitter's certainly wasn't. "That is some really bold sexism," tweeted one aggravated viewer, "especially directed at a former US military officer." Another upset observer ranted, "I've said it before and I'll say it again: Alex Trebek is a sexist, misogynistic, rude jerk," and yet another claimed, "I think I'm going to throw up." Of course, this being Twitter, someone went ahead and battled the perceived sexism with ageism: "Gee, Alex Trebek. ... You're old, but that's just sexist."

"What is a threesome?"

Playful humor or full-throttle malevolence? Jeopardy! contestant Kara Spak offered a deliriously awkward response to the following clue in the "Group Countdown" category. (Trigger warning: The following content is unusually steamy, as far as Jeopardy! clues go.) "If Andy yearns for Brenda and Brenda cares about Charlene who pines for Andy, the three of them form one of these." You don't have to be a professional love-maker to know the answer to that one, but Spak apparently choked in the heat of the moment and blurted out, "What is a threesome?" (The correct answer is: "What is a love triangle?" But then, you probably already knew that.)

Following Spak's response, Trebek turned to the camera and deadpanned, "Kara has obviously had much more experience than I." While that sounds like gentle teasing to us, Entertainment Weekly called Trebek "rather merciless" in his response. Meanwhile, VH1 went so far as to accuse Trebek of "slut-shaming" and ruled him a "shade empress." While VH1 might be going overboard on the condemnation front, it's worth nothing Trebek allegedly called Spak a "saucy wench" during one commercial break — an experience she wrote about in the Chicago-Sun Times (via Poynter).

NEVER insult Big Bird in front of Trebek

Word to the wise: Think twice before speaking dismissively of Big Bird when Alex Trebek is within earshot. Contestant Lisa Mueller learned that the hard way during a particularly chatty Jeopardy! interlude. As Yahoo! reported in March 2018, Mueller told Trebek she used to obsessively write to her heroes in her youth. "I love Big Bird," she confessed. "I wrote to [Sesame Street] and I said, 'My third favorite color is yellow, just like you are.' I guess it's kind of a backhanded compliment." So far, so incomprehensible, and Mueller wasn't finished with her tale. "I drew a picture of my bunnies," she told Trebek, "which, I kind of lied to them, I guess, because I didn't actually have bunnies, but I just wanted to draw some bunnies." 

Trebek stared incredulously at the audience, asking no one in particular, "Get the feeling that our current champion is a little weird?" When Mueller's jaw dropped, It didn't escape Trebek, either. "Oh yeah, give me the look," he said. "You disrespected Bird Bird! You're lucky to be here." 

According to Yahoo!, the fun reportedly continued after a commercial break, when Trebek quipped, "Our champion, Lisa Mueller, told me that when she leaves Jeopardy! she is going to write me a very long letter."

Trebek's shot in the dark

Jeopardy! contestant Rebecca Rider was on a veritable roll back in March and April of 2013, crushing five nights on the storied quiz show (per the Queens Chronicle). During one particularly memorable episode, Rider regaled host Alex Trebek with the tale of how she first became acquainted with her hubby. 

Trebek provoked this storytelling session by claiming Rider "met her husband in the dark." Rider corrected him, "Well, it wasn't quite dark yet, but the lights were off, and he was trying to pick up another girl." Trebek was confused, asking, "Another girl?" So Rider recounted the whole tangled tale. You see, it was summer, and they went to Madison Square Garden to watch a big game, and her husband-to-be was expecting to meet up with a few friends, while Rider had arrived early. Suddenly, the 2003 Northeast Blackout happened. "All the lights and everything went out," Rider recalled. "They ended up postponing the game."

"Okay," Trebek said. "But you two guys wound up together? That's good." Rider shrugged, "We had nothing to do." That's when Trebek went in for the kill: "I bet you found something to do." Ehh? Ehhhhh? (He's implying they had sex.)

A one-word shutdown

Admittedly, this one doesn't look like a whole lot on paper ... but you'd be surprised how much malevolence can be packed into a single word, particularly if that word happens to be "No."

In July 2008, librarian Daria Labinsky, a contestant from Corrales, N.M., found herself submerged in a remarkably tricky Jeopardy! category (per J! Archive). Unfortunately, "'R'2 'D'2" had absolutely nothing to do with droids or the ever-expanding Star Wars universe. "Each correct response will have 2 R's and 2 D's," Trebek reportedly explained. And then came the so-called clue: "More rubicund." 

Definitely not a whole lot to go on, and Labinsky didn't quite rise to that particular challenge. "What is rotunderer?" she offered, inspiring Trebek to involuntarily chortle wickedly at the hubris of mere mortals. Then came the feather in Trebek's cap: A single, solitary "No," employed with just enough malice to definitively crush someone else's dreams — without ever breaking a sweat.

(By the way, according to some Jeopardy! obsessives on Reddit, the correct response is "Redder." Obviously.)

The Pygmy Goat Incident

There it was, splashed across the headlines of HuffPost: "Alex Trebek Laughs Over Pygmy Goat Death." In a July 2012 episode of Jeopardy!, Trebek met New York-based contestant Tracey Rhys, who, according to the card in Trebek's hand, was "in the Order of the Blessed Saint Scully the Enigmatic." As Rhys described it, "Some people would call it an Internet cult. We prefer to think of it as a cyber-abbey devoted to the wisdom of the character of Dana Scully from The X-Files." Trebek was quick to bring up his 1996 cameo on that show. ("You're feeling very sleepy, very relaxed," he once told Mulder in a season three episode.)

But while Rhys had encountered Nice Alex Trebek, her fellow contestant Laura Sikes Jambon, a graduate student in Rochester, N.Y. (per J Board TV), did not. Jambon told Trebek about a pygmy goat she used to own for "the cuteness factor." As you may have already guessed from HuffPost's impressively baiting headline, that cute goat — named Billy, naturally — wasn't long for this cruel world. Aside from occasionally munching on yummy cat fur, Billy allegedly enjoyed eating "a lot of things like a three-wick candle, an entire bag of Hershey Kisses, and unfortunately, he met his demise by eating a bag of Quikrete."

"Wait a minute," Trebek asked, when he heard about the concrete mix. "Was it a 60 lb., or an 80 lb. bag?"

"Alex," Jambon scolded. "You're being insensitive."