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What Happens When Your 'Jeopardy!' Response Goes Viral

It's not every Final Jeopardy response that goes viral. Mine did. And let me tell you, it is very weird.

I was a contestant on Jeopardy! last Friday. Heading into Final Jeopardy, things were looking grim for me. Even though one of my competitors had to sit out the final round, I'd been unable to catch up enough to the other guy to make a game of it. I had only $6,000 while the leader, Sean, had more than $15,000.

My only hope was that Sean would both get it wrong (unlikely) and accidentally wager too much (very unlikely). But it was worth a shot, since I had nothing to lose. Even if I got it wrong, I'd still get second place. So I bet my whole $6,000.

The category was Flowers. (You can't see me groan, but Flowers was just the latest tough subject in a game with categories on Electrical Engineering and Biblical Animals.) On screen, a photo flashed of a bright pink, heart-shaped flower hanging from a delicate stem. The clue read "The flower pictured here is called this, also a disparaging term for people on the political left."

The correct response was "bleeding heart."

I have to admit I had no idea that bleeding hearts were flowers. But you only get one chance to be on Jeopardy! — and I didn't want to get all the way to Final Jeopardy and not even come up with a guess. So I wrote down the name of the only flower I could think of that could also be used as a "disparaging term": a pansy — as in a wimp or a coward.

I also didn't know that host Alex Trebek can read the Final Jeopardy responses before they're revealed. So it was a big surprise when he set up my guess like a joke: "Becky, we're going to start with you. And I have a feeling you may have found a way to insult liberals in this country."

My answer was revealed as I laughed nervously (and inexplicably gave a double thumbs-up). Everyone in the studio also got a good laugh. Sean guessed correctly and won.

I never dreamed it would take off like it did, not even while it aired on Friday. During the broadcast, a few people on Twitter commented about it — along with other things, like the guy who said I was a real life 5.5 but a Jeopardy! 9.

But then it started showing up on social media. On Saturday, someone posted a set of screenshots to Reddit, where it got 5,000 upvotes and landed on the front page. Then, friends started sending me screenshots of Facebook's "What's Trending" bar, where "Game Show Contestant Writes 'Pansy' " was up there with Chris Christie and Jimmy Fallon.

By Monday morning, it was all over a bunch of news outlets online: BuzzFeed, Huffington Post, Entertainment Weekly, even my hometown newspaper, the Kansas City Star. It was the subject of a roundtable discussion on CNN. And then there are the videos. The one on the Jeopardy! Facebook page has more than 1.2 million views. On YouTube, there are more than 600,000 and counting.

Look, it's really, really strange going viral. I'm a pretty private person when it comes to the Internet, so it's impossible to be comfortable seeing my name and face all over, with thousands of strangers commenting on me and speculating about my intentions. I'll have to take a break from Twitter and Facebook for a while.

That said, appearing on Jeopardy! really is once-in-a-lifetime, though (even if most contestants don't have to deal with this). Plus, second place still got me $2,000.

Becky Sullivan is a producer on All Things Considered.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.

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