How to Explain ‘Smart’ Jeopardy! Contestants Behaving More Unhinged Than Qanon


These former Jeopardy! winners are acting like the alleged conspiracy ‘losers’ ridiculed in the press.

What are we to make when a group of otherwise intelligent folks get together and exhibit unhinged true-believer zealotry as a group? In late April, there were news stories flashing around that a gentleman by the name of Kelly Donohue was a blatant white supremacist. His revelation came about when, as a contestant on the game show Jeopardy!, he flashed a white-power hand signal in front of the cameras. As the social media firestorm welled, a group of former contestants on the show, gathered as they were in a private FaceBook group, decided to take action in response to this affront. 


They wrote an open letter of complaint on the matter, signed by almost 600 of the members. They condemned the hate signal and criticized the production for not editing out the flashed hate icon. They also called Donohue to task for invoking an offensive term for a group of people, in his response to one of the questions. [Trigger warning: Skip to the next paragraph to avoid any possible offense.] The player delivered the intolerant term “Gypsy” while providing his answer. As the letter stated, “Yes, it may be an innocent or ignorant reply, and yes, it was technically correct.” Here is the humor; they are upset with him for answering the question accurately.

As for the hand gesture, it has now been exposed as rampant hysteria. Briefly for those not familiar, here is what has the brainiacs in a dewy meltdown.

Now, not only are we seeing people devolving into keyboard-shrieking outrage over this perpetually stupid accusation, but Donohue was not even playing the made-you-look game. This was the winner’s fourth appearance on the show, and he was indicating his having won three times prior. The what-should-be-calming evidence is seen in his prior appearances where he had also indicated digitally his previous wins. 


Once the accusations and explanations flew there was a pattern. Donohue took to social media to needlessly explain his case. Unsatisfied, the ‘winners’ group complained bitterly, with this dose of illogic: “Regardless of his stated intent, the gesture is a racist dog whistle.” This is the first revelation that this is a gathering of unthinking higher minds. The term racist dog whistle implies a secretive message designed to deliver a coded message. If Mr. Donohue had no intent, then there can be no dog whistle employed. But this group of cerebral cranks was far from finished. They had convinced themselves this was a serious cause for their undertaking.

What they do not seem to grasp is they have descended into the depths of conspiracy theory swamp thinking.

Over the years, the loosely strung-together network of adherents to Qanon has been a useful tool in the media. On one hand, the gathering is used as a shorthand insult of the Republican base (note the prevalence of ‘GQP’ on social media), and on the other, it becomes a fallback excuse when things do not pan out as planned politically. Are people retweeting news items about Hunter Biden the press does not like to cover? “Q” told them to do that. Far more minority voters supported Donald Trump in the election than expected? They fell prey to Qanon conspiracies on the radio.


What has been remarkable is how those who seem the most enthralled with the messaging from Qanon are those from the left, particularly in the press. The left loves to impugn the mental impairment of those who adhere to Q-spiracies, but what then is to be made of these supposedly smart Jeopardy! players who not only were duped by an innocuous hand gesture but are uniquely rigid in their refusal to accept any outside explanation for said gesture?

Not only have the show’s producers explained the episode, but the accusation has also been debunked on the fact check site Snopes, where it was boldly declared to be FALSE. But the group behind the letter sent out another, this one to the AntiDefamation League, asking them to officially weigh in on the matter. They recently just heard back, and the ADL gave them a direct response.

We have reviewed the tape and it looks like he is simply holding up three fingers when they say he is a three-time champion. We do not interpret his hand signal to be indicative of any ideology. However, we are grateful to you for raising your concern, and please do not hesitate to contact us in the future should the need arise.

That is not only a direct refutation but it is no small matter this came from the A.D.L., a group that loves to accuse anti-Semitism at the smallest provocation. Recently they were incensed over a joke told on Saturday Night Live, as an example. So for them to say, “Nah, you don’t have it,” is significant. The Jeopardy! Winners have instead become almost more adamant about their charge as a result.


Says one signee of that letter, in response to the A.D.L. decision: “Is anyone else feeling gaslit? We saw it. We know we did. But a lot of people (including the goddamned ADL) are telling us we didn’t. That’s some classic gaslighting.” Well, it sure is a classic example of something, to be certain. They have gone full manifesto here, disregarding the mounting evidence that no crime has taken place. These people are resorting to the grandest of conspiracies — everyone is in on it!

Their zeal has now grown to such a degree that not only is Kelly Donohue a racist (or maybe he is not, as one member says, but delivered an unintentional message anyway) but now also, too, are the producers for not eliminating this imagery, the fact-checkers who are supporting the excuse, and now even the Jewish protection group the ADL. 

That clearly smart individuals have plummeted to these depths of mental feverishness shows those who fall prone to the conspiracy mindset are not relegated to the low-IQ crowd. Here you have learned and urbane thinkers refusing to be swayed by the evidence and expert opinion. How is it that these are smart Jeopardy! Winners who are acting like mouth-breathing fanatics? For that, I do not have an answer in the form of a question.


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