The Jeopardy! audience audibly gasped when host Alex Trebek revealed the “Final Jeopardy!” results at the end of the Thursday, March 1 episode. Why? Defending champion Laura McLean, a data analyst from Tennessee, had answered incorrectly and lost $8,201, tying her with opponent Sarah Norris, a technical writer and manager from Minnesota, who had missed the same question and ended up with the same winnings. And that meant Alex had to segue into the rare tiebreaker question.
For the record, the “Final Jeopardy!” question asked the players to identify which European islands were once known as the Norman Isles, were never British colonies, and are considered by the British government to be “not part of the UK.” Sarah guessed the Faroe Islands, and Laura guessed the Shetland Islands, but the correct answer was, “What are the Channel Islands?”
As much as the audience was shocked by this scarcely-seen scenario on the long-running game show, Alex was unfazed, introducing the sudden-death challenge without missing a beat. “You and Sarah are tied, so here is your tiebreaker question,” he said. (The third contestant, Pennsylvania editor Scott Krzywonos, was left with $5 and thus had to sit out the tiebreaker. He merely smiled and shrugged.)
Then came the clue: “Her April  decision to call a snap Parliamentary election proved less than brilliant on June 8.” Laura buzzed in first and answered correctly — “Who is [Theresa May]?” — and won the whole shebang. The last time a Jeopardy! game ended in a tie was the culmination of the 2014 Teen Tournament. In that tiebreaker, contestant Jeff Xie snuck out a $75,000 win over opponent Alan Koolik by correctly answering a question about the Nobel Peace Prize.
Alex was certainly more excited about the tiebreaker on that occasion. “We have, for the first time in many years, a tie!” he exclaimed. (You really have to watch the clip and see Jeff’s myriad of emotions as he does the mental math.)
According to a 2016 post on the show’s J!Buzz blog, the tiebreaker was only recently been adapted into regular gameplay. “The clue has no dollar value and does not increase the player’s winnings,” the post explained. “The first contestant to buzz in and respond correctly is declared the winner. Should all participating contestants fail to provide a correct response, this process is repeated until one contestant responds correctly.” We’re racked by nerves just thinking about that stressful scenario, and we’re not even the ones holding the buzzers!