On TV for more than 30 years with thousands of episodes aired, popular quiz game show "Jeopardy!" managed to make some history this week.
After all three contestants were stumped by a Final Jeopardy clue in the category "European Islands," defending champion Laura McLean and challenger Sarah Norris both dropped to scores of exactly $6,799, prompting host Alex Trebek to give a single-question, sudden-death faceoff. With the rules the same as standard Jeopardy, McLean buzzed in first and clinched the win with a correct response to a clue in a fresh category, "Way Back in 2017."
The episode, which aired Thursday, marked the first sudden-death tiebreaker in a standard format of the game show. The highlight was posted to the show's official YouTube on Friday, where it has already been viewed 1 million times to become the channel's most-watched clip.
Ties are rare given the format of Final Jeopardy, in which contestants can wager any amount of their banked cash total and will typically bet in ways that avoid tying the score, but they've happened before. However, rather than ending in a draw, tiebreakers were adapted into the rules near the start of 2016, according to a blog post on the "Jeopardy!" website.
Tiebreakers have been around in "Jeopardy!" tournament play for a bit longer. A 2014 teen tournament champion was decided in sudden death.
Several YouTube commenters and social media users criticized the tiebreaker format.
Some said it was "anticlimactic." Others thought it was unfair that the winner could potentially be decided by whichever contestant's hand was quickest to the buzzer. And a few thought that Trebek gave too little of an explanation to the audience about what was going on. In the highlight, all three contestants do appear visibly shocked as Trebek announces the tie score.
Justification for the format can be found in another recent article on the "Jeopardy!" website. "The judges felt that a tiebreaker yielding one winner kept the gameplay brisk and competitive," it reads. "The judges concluded that it was fitting to bring that same level of competition (as tournament play) to the regular games."
Fair or not, McLean returned for a third episode, which aired Friday. She did not win, but she earned just under $20,000 total between her first two victories.
In its 34th season, "Jeopardy!" occasionally makes headlines when there's controversy, including strict judge rulings and contestants with unique playstyles or personalities.