Did a ‘Jeopardy’ Contestant’s Accent Almost Cheat Him Out of a Correct Answer?

A contestant on the game show “Jeopardy” Tuesday night supposedly had the right answer, but because of what many are saying was his accent, he was initially told by host Alex Trebek that he was wrong.

In a category called “Name the TV Role,” the $800 question’s clues were “‘Seinfeld’: Julia-Louis Dreyfus”. The correct answer was “Who is Elaine Benes?”

Contestant Fidelito Cortes was the first to buzz in and answer, but his accent had Trebek initially saying he was wrong. Contestant Rich Hansen buzzed in next and said “Who is Benes?” and was given the $800 win.

Contestant Fidelito Cortes
Contestant Fidelito Cortes was initially told his answer to the question was wrong. Many disagreed with Trebek — the show’s judges ruled against this assessment as well — but some think the host’s initial ruling was right. (Image source: YouTube video screenshot)

But within a split second, Trebek backtracked to Cortes saying the judges would in fact accept his answer. Trebek corrected the pronunciation saying “it’s ee-LANE not IH-lane.”

Watch the clip:

Although many think Cortes was judged wrongly at first, Chris Chase with USA Today’s For the Win thinks the host’s initial assessment should have stuck.

Chase seems to think Cortes said something more like “Helene” and not “Elaine,” thinking his accent was not necessarily an impediment to pronounce the name correctly.

“Fidelito has an accent, sure, but throughout the game he correctly pronounced proper nouns like Wagner, Dido, Minsk, Chile and Real Madrid — words that could easily be mispronounced by people with sublime non-regional diction. He had no trouble with them,” Chase wrote. “Plus, on the previous night’s episode, Fidelito correctly responded to back-to-back questions by saying ‘Eleanor’ and ‘George Eliot.’ There was no H sound at the beginning of either response.”

“In the ‘Elaine’ answer, he was rushed to come up with something. He knew the name but couldn’t summon it to the forefront of his mind. He yelled out the last thing that went through his head. ‘Helaine.’ It was wrong.”

Now, Chase acknowledged that his other coworkers at For the Win disagree with him on this assessment — seven to one.

“I’m an outcast, shunned for my pro-Trebek support. They all think Fidelito should have been awarded a correct response,” Chase wrote. “That’s because they’re softies who probably let five-year-olds win at Connect Four, think it’s okay to let you re-roll when a dice falls off the table during a Yahtzee roll and are cool with ‘Jeopardy’ contestants who don’t answer in the form of a question.”

Cortes ended up winning the contest with $25,000, making his two-day winnings more than $45,000.