The group alleges via an open letter that winner Kelly Donohue flashed the familiar gesture appropriated by white power groups — he says he was just indicating how many games he’d won.
“Jeopardy!” found itself under hot water again after riling up a group of former contestants with guest host Dr. Oz. This time, though, it was a reigning champion they were taking issue with.
In an open letter on Medium that is purportedly signed by 467 former contestants on the show, the show is accused of giving airtime to a common hand gesture that’s been recently appropriated by white supremacy groups.
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“We, as former contestants, feel the need to speak out against the messaging that these choices communicated — either intentionally or unintentionally — by the contestant Kelly Donohue and, implicitly by association, the producers of ‘Jeopardy!'” reads the letter.
The gesture is widely known as the hand signal for “okay,” the thumb and index finger touching to form an “O” with the other three fingers held out. However, some white supremacist groups have appropriated the gesture, with the outstretched fingers signaling “W” for “white.”
Donohue says he was using those three fingers to indicate, quite simply, the number three as that’s the number of wins he had under his belt as of Tuesday’s show. He had made hand gestures after one and two wins, with those numbers of fingers outstretched.
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“Regardless of his stated intent, the gesture is a racist dog whistle,” the letter stated. And beyond that, it was within the power of “Jeopardy!” producers to do something about it, they argue, so the moment wouldn’t air on television.
“A couple of years ago, a contestant unintentionally wagered a monetary amount that used numerical values coopted by white supremacist groups and, since the total didn’t affect the outcome of the game, ‘Jeopardy!’ digitally altered the numbers in the version that aired,” the letter said at another point.
“This should have been done in this case. Intentional or not, the burden was on the production team to catch the similarity to a hate symbol and make sure it didn’t end up on air.” TooFab has reached out to representatives of the show for comment.
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The group also mentioned another incident with Donohue from his Monday appearance, where he used a term that is now seen as a slur to describe Romani people. “The use of this term doesn’t necessarily indicate malice; until recently, it was widely used by English speakers,” they wrote. They also noted that host Anderson Cooper noted this in the episode.
But, peeling back the curtain again, they said that in the past when “questionable responses” were uttered, the production team would pause and go again, re-recording more appropriate dialogue. “This probably would have been a good occasion to employ a similar fix.”
They further called out Donohue himself for not publicly apologizing for the gesture, regardless of his intention in using it, writing, “If something has been misconstrued, an apology and a total disavowal of any connection to white supremacist doctrines is called for.”
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