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Most Insane Game Show Contestant Fails

While the phrase "game show" has two fun words right there in the name, actually appearing on a televised contest in pursuit of cash jackpots, fabulous prizes, and brief and minor fame isn't as entertaining for the contestants as it is for the people watching at home. Game show contestants have to overcome a lot to emerge from the experience unscathed.

No matter the program, be it "Wheel of Fortune," "Family Feud," "Who Wants to be a Millionaire," "Jeopardy!," or some other entry, there's potentially life-changing money at stake, tremendous pressure to win, and just the generally stressful and strange idea of being on television for probably the first and only time. It's tough for a contestant to have a clear head and maintain focus with all those issues up in the air, not to mention the distractions of an applauding audience, ingratiating host, other competitors standing by, and hot studio lights. Frankly, it's surprising that game show contestants don't mess up more often.

Sure, everyone makes mistakes, but these people did it on television in front of millions of people, their low moments preserved forever on the internet. Here are some of the greatest all-time game show fails.

The Wheel of Fortune contestant who couldn't get anything right

Many of the contestants covered here are responsible for one viral moment that's enough to make them wish they'd never strapped on a name tag. But Indiana University honors student Julian Batts, aka arguably the worst "Wheel of Fortune" contestant ever, put in an epically awful performance on the show in 2014 that found him offering not one, not two, but three absolutely baffling answers to three puzzles that should've been easy to solve. First, he flubbed the pronunciation of "Achilles" so badly he didn't get credit for the correct answer. Fair enough, but it's hard to assume a college student never learned basic Greek mythology.

Next, he blew an incredibly easy chance to win a car. Ironically, his on-the-spot decision for a solution to the incomplete puzzle "_N-TH_-SP_T-D_C_S__N' was "ON-THE-SPOT-DICESPIN." (The actual solution: "ON-THE-SPOT DECISION.") Batts thought "dice spin" is one word, and also, apparently, that dice are a thing that people spin. Batts, though, improbably went on to win the game.

An exclusive Wheel of Fortune fail

The game show fates seemed to be pulling for uniformed military member Casey during her 2007 appearance on "Wheel of Fortune." During a successful run of spins, she buys a vowel, "I," and there are two, and host Pat Sajak reveals that only consonants remain. The boisterous Casey spins again and hits the rare and difficult-to-nail "$10,000" piece, which is flanked by two "Bankrupt" slices. Casey guesses a "G," and she'll get a nice 10-grand bonus should she finish the puzzle. That solution is imminent, as the board displays the name of a "Place" — "E_CLUSI_E NIGHTCLUB."

Viewers at home were likely shouting "Exclusive Nightclub" at their screens at this point, but Casey obviously didn't hear them. She didn't know the solution, and spun once more, skirting over a "Bankrupt" fate once more and landing on the $900 spot. Casey then guessed for a K. There's no "K" in "Exclusive Nightclub" — unless you grossly mispronounce it. Her turn over, control of the game went to contestant Ben, who easily and quickly turned in a correct solution.

Even fifth graders know that the moon is not a planet

The title of the long-running 2000s game show "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?" is supposed to function as a rhetorical question, a challenge, and a thesis statement about exactly what the series is about. Contestants, and home viewers, are encouraged to match wits against a bunch of children, literally fifth graders, to determine who knows more absolutely base-level general knowledge — those who just learned it, or those who supposedly retained it for decades. But the makeup of the solar system — the placement and nature of the Earth, sun, and the nearest planets — is something learned via rote memorization even earlier than the fifth grade.

The reason "the moon" isn't listed along with Mercury, Venus, Mars, and the rest is because it isn't a planet. The moon is the Earth's natural satellite, and so it's not a good answer to offer up, if, say, "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?" host Jeff Foxworthy asks, "What planet in our solar system takes the least amount of time to orbit the sun?"

But this particular contestant answered "the moon" straight away and then explained the (lack of) logic behind her choice. "We see the moon every night, so I'm thinking since it comes around regular every night on a routine basis [...] I'm gonna go with the moon." Sorry, that's a very wrong answer.

Noticing her sister wasn't part of the deal on Deal or No Deal

Somehow, some intrepid TV minds made an exciting, compelling game show out of people pointing at briefcases and then waiting as somebody else opened those briefcases one by one. That's the premise behind "Deal or No Deal," a massive hit for NBC in the 2000s before a long run in syndication. The show's charm lies in its presentation. Each briefcase corresponds to a dollar amount, with one containing the promise of $1 million. Each of the cases is held aloft and opened by a glamorous model.

In seeking to mix up the formula in a May 2006 episode, producers had contestant Lauren Potter's sister surreptitiously appear onstage as one of the briefcase models. The contestant apparently had nothing but potential riches on their mind, because she didn't recognize their own sister until host Howie Mandel pointed her out after offering several clues. The contestant's mother, watching from the sidelines, didn't spot her daughter as the briefcase model either.

Three wasn't the magic number for this Jeopardy! contestant

Not even "Tournament of Champions" competitors are immune to goofing up and making an embarrassing faux pas on national television. In one such best-of-the-best, multi-day special competition that aired in the middle of the 2011 to 2012 "Jeopardy!" season, former winner Kara Spak gave an answer that was a little ribald for the clean-cut game show. The category: "Group Countdown." Alex Trebek read this prompt: "If Andy yearns for Brenda and Brenda cares about Charlene who pines for Andy, the three of them form one of these."

The answer (phrase in the form of a question) that "Jeopardy!" producers were looking for was "What is a love triangle?" That's not what Spak said. She buzzed in and uttered, "What is a threesome?" Trebek couldn't help but razz Spak in her moment of slight carnal-mindedness. "Kara has obviously had more experience than me," he quipped.

Listening to the whole question before answering is key

Every round of "Family Feud" begins with a face-off at host Steve Harvey's podium. A representative from each team of relatives steps up and has to name the most popular answer given in a recent survey of 100 random people. Doing so wins control of the game, or the right to pass or play, for the contestant's team. Time is of the essence to buzz in first, but it's also important to ascertain all the necessary information before answering.

In a face-off in a 2011 "Family Feud" episode, a contestant named Holly probably thought she had the perfect answer and that she was ready in a timely fashion, too. "Name something a woman does for her baby that she —" host Steve Harvey read. "Changes his diapers," Holly calmly stated after buzzing in. The big "X" chyron and buzzing sound effect let the audience and Holly know that this was not one of the top five answers in the survey. Without a word, Harvey squared in on Holly — and finished reading the question she'd interrupted.  "Name something a woman does for her baby ... that she also does for her hubby," he said. Holly laughed it off, but it's clear she was also more than a little embarrassed.

Some couples are truly made for each other

The entire premise of the 1960s and 1970s favorite "The Newlywed Game" was that freshly wed and supposedly deeply connected couples may not know one another as well as they think they do. This was certainly the case for newlywed contestants Gloria and Joe, although they both seem to share the same gaps in their general knowledge.

When asked by host Bob Eubanks, "How many decades will your husband say his mother has lived?" Gloria visibly realizes the trouble her husband, Joe, would have with this answer, and yet she confidently states, "Ten decades." The audience laughs like this is ridiculous — a 100-year-old mother-in-law seems far-fetched — but then Joe comes back out. He not only says, "I don't know what a decade is," but then stunningly gives the same overreaching answer as his wife. Clearly, Gloria and Joe are made for each other.

Kellie Pickler wasn't necessarily smarter than a fifth grader

Kellie Pickler's "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?" appearance in 2007 is legendary. Competing for prize money she planned to donate to the Red Cross and the AARP, Pickler demonstrated the novel if meandering way she makes an educated guess. "Because I have my ears pierced" led her to correctly ascertain that Franklin Pierce was indeed a U.S. president. But the pinnacle of Pickler's performance came after she was asked to identify the European nation whose capital city is Budapest. Her verbalized thoughts and answers ranged from "I thought Europe was a country," to "I never even heard of that," to "I know they speak French there," to "Is France even a country?"

Host Jeff Foxworthy eventually stepped in to guide her to embrace one of the game's built-in lifelines and "cheat" off of her fifth-grader partner, who correctly answered Hungary. Foxworthy and Pickler then proceeded to repeatedly pronounce it "Hungry," as the 10-year-olds on stage looked at each other in amazement.

He didn't want to be a millionaire, it seems

"Who Wants to be a Millionaire" differs from most other game shows in that only one contestant plays at a time, making for a low-key, intimate scenario where the stakes slowly escalate. Each successive question carries with it a higher cash prize, working up to the $1 million jackpot. The first few questions are designed to be quickly and effortlessly answerable, easing the contestant into the game and getting them comfortable for when the hard work begins.

In 2006, Tennessee college student Chase Sampson appeared on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" and made game show history when he couldn't get the first question right. He'd only just introduced himself to host Meredith Vieira, telling her that he'd arrived to shoot the show very late the night before and hadn't slept. Perhaps if Sampson had more rest and been able to focus, he may have remembered that surge protectors are used to fend off overactive electric currents and not, as he guessed, excess water flow.

The price wasn't right, but it was painfully close

In its CBS daytime iteration running since the early 1970s, "The Price Is Right" is split into halves, with the ultimate winner from both squaring off in the final guess-the-price game, the lavish "Showcase Showdown." Presented with an array of luxurious appliances, trips, vehicles, and more, the contestant who gets closer to the total, tough-to-calculate retail price of all that stuff wins everything in their prize selection. The trick is that they can't overestimate the price — that's an instant loss and disqualification.

In a "Price Is Right" installment that aired in March 2021, a contestant named Jenna was tasked with pricing a collection of prizes that included a new car, a home theater, and a video camera. Jennifer's guess: $23,294. Her opponent, Robert, overbid by $6,083, so all Jennifer had to do to win big was just be under the "actual retail price." In the moment of truth, host Drew Carey revealed the real cost: $23,291. Jennifer had gone over and thus lost the game — by a margin of just $3.

A Family Feud victory was close but so far away

The final, big cash round on "Family Feud" is called "Fast Money," and for good reason. The winning team from the general rounds sends two representatives to compete — answering five rapid-fire questions guessing the responses of 100 people in a survey. The first player gets a mere 20 seconds, while the second gets 25. The goal is to get enough correct responses that the total number of both players' answers adds up to 200, bringing with it a huge cash prize.

In a 2015 "Family Feud" episode, contestant Tim Sass undeniably crushed it. He racked up 182 points and with three seconds to spare. That meant that all his relative Anna had to do was come up with 18 points over five questions. But after her stab at the lightning round, Anna got a 0 on all five questions. She just couldn't get her family across the finish line.

A Wheel of Fortune answer left much to be desired

Tennessee Williams is one of the best-known and most widely read and performed American playwrights. His character studies of broken people living in evocative Southern settings include "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," and "A Streetcar Named Desire," whose 1951 film adaptation won four Academy Awards and spawned the indelible image of a young Marlon Brando shouting "Stella!" Not too many plays are part of the collective consciousness, but "A Streetcar Named Desire" is — although not entirely, as suggested by an episode of "Wheel of Fortune" that aired in March 2017.

With the puzzle revealed as "A STREETCAR NA_ED DESIRE" and so almost solved, contestant Kevin just doesn't know it or wants more money, so he opts to spin again. Landing on the $600 space, he guesses "K" — theorizing that the "Title" to guess is "A Streetcar Naked Desire," which isn't the title of anything. Losing his turn, control of the board moves to contestant Lisa, who quickly spins and correctly asks for an "M."

A team blew $1.3 million on The Wall

Gameplay on NBC's "The Wall" is a bit complicated, but the show also yields potentially huge paydays for its contestants. Two-member teams answer general knowledge trivia questions to earn the right to drop balls down a massive pegboard, and whichever slot the ball lands in at the bottom correlates to a dollar amount, the values of which change throughout the game or can even negatively impact the score. In later rounds, the teammates are separated, with each member of the duo unaware of the other's progress.

In a 2017 episode of "The Wall," according to Yahoo!, a man named Prince did very well with the pegboard, amassing $1.5 million before the final round. But then the subtracting balls came into play, and Prince dropped three into slots that took away from his total. He lost a total of $1.3 million, his winnings down to a relatively small $159,813.

Even celebrities make game show goofs

For years, "Saturday Night Live" ran a series of sketches parodying "Celebrity Jeopardy!" Playing off the exaggerated notion that famous actors and rock stars aren't exactly the brightest people, the sketches followed a formula of host Alex Trebek (Will Ferrell) growing ever more exasperated by the celebrity contestants' monumentally dumb answers born out of their disconnection from reality and lack of common knowledge.

In April 1998, the real "Jeopardy!" aired a few nights of "Celebrity Invitational" games, and the first pitted "MTV Sports" star Dan Cortese against TV legends Jason Alexander of "Seinfeld" and Carol Burnett. This actual "Celebrity Jeopardy!" imitated the "SNL" version quite realistically. Trebek read this prompt: "One common shape of the stomach is like this tenth letter of the alphabet." To score the points, all any of those contestants had to do was name a letter. After a few seconds of complete and telling silence, Cortese buzzed in first, guessing "L." Alexander and Burnett, meanwhile, recited the alphabet and counted on their fingers while giggling. Finally venturing a guess, Alexander suggested "K." Wrong again. Finally, an exuberant Burnett realized that the 10th letter of the alphabet is "J."

When a contestant won Jeopardy! with a dollar

"Jeopardy!" enjoys a reputation as the brainiest of game shows. Contestants have to be pretty smart to compete on the show, boasting a wide breadth of knowledge as well as rapid recall. The particularly adept "Jeopardy!" players also have to be able to perform fairly complex mental mathematical tasks — when determining how much to wager on the "Final Jeopardy" question, they have to balance out their knowledge of the topic while calculating exactly how much money they can stand to lose or need to win to edge out their opponents.

Over a span of "Jeopardy!" episodes airing in October 2017, U.S. Navy officer Manny Abell proved his smarts to the world. He won two straight games and then on the third try was victorious again — thanks to a combination of his math abilities and the other contestants' simultaneous flameouts. Entering "Final Jeopardy," Abell stood in third place behind contestants Carlos and Fran, tied with $12,300. The last and decisive prompt: "It's the only country that borders both the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf." Carlos said Azerbaijan, Fran said Tibet, and Abell said Iraq. Nobody got it right (the correct response was Iran), but since Carlos and Fran bet everything while Abell only bet $999 of his $1,000 total, he won this most lackluster game of "Jeopardy!"

A three-way Jeopardy! win was also a three-way Jeopardy! defeat

As much as it can be a dazzling display of knowledge executed swiftly, "Jeopardy!" involves tons of luck and intuition. Not even the most genius "Jeopardy!" contestant knows everything about everything — they've each got their specialties and favorite categories. In an episode airing in January 2016, all three "Jeopardy!" competitors must have felt very confident when the "Final Jeopardy" category popped up. It was "State Capitals." The statement, as read by Alex Trebek, teased: "A 1957 event led to the creation of a national historic site in this city, signed into law by a president whose library is now there too."

When asked to place their individual wagers, contestants Mike and Claudia were tied for first place, with $13,800 each, with Randi trailing at $6,000. But then, they all wrote their answers down and Trebek revealed how much they each gained, or lost, as the case may be. That's because Mike, Claudia, and Randi each bet their entire amounts on "Final Jeopardy." And they all answered the question incorrectly. (It wasn't Austin or Atlanta, but Little Rock, Arkansas.) The game ended in a three-way tie, technically, as all these "Jeopardy!" contestants finished with $0.

Date line: Wheel of Fortune

Part of why "Wheel of Fortune" has been a consistently popular TV show for more than 40 years is that it's easy for viewers to play along at home. It's a word puzzle game, with letters gradually revealed to spell out a very commonly known phrase, or the name of a person, place, or thing. Geographical designations are commonly featured on "Wheel of Fortune," such as in a March 2023 episode when a presented puzzle fell into the "On the Map" category.

A contestant named Whitney, a math tutor from Tennessee, seemed on the verge of guessing a correct solution and taking home a sizable $6,500 cash prize, if she could figure out the missing letters in a three-word puzzle that to that point read as "INTERNATI_NAL _ATE LINE." Perhaps Whitney's brain jumped ahead to all the world traveling she was going to do with her "Wheel of Fortune" windfall because she elected to solve the puzzle and determined the answer to be "International Gate Line." That's just not correct, however; "Wheel" producers were looking for "International Date Line."

Fox dropped a couple's $800,000

In December 2010, engaged couple Gabe Okoye and Brittany Mayti appeared on the Fox game show "Million Dollar Money Drop." Okoye and Mayti answered so many trivia questions correctly — and astutely bet the proper and most lucrative portions of their winnings, as that was part of the game — that they'd amassed $880,000. Then one question threw them off. Host Kevin Pollak asked, "Which of these was sold in stores first?" The choices were the Macintosh computer, the Sony Walkman, and Post-It Notes. Okoye was pretty sure the Post-It came first, while Mayti thought the Walkman was the right answer. Okoye ultimately persuaded his fiancée, and they bet $800,000 of their fortune on Post-Its and the remaining $80,000 on the Walkman. Mayti had seemingly been right all along — Walkman was deemed the right answer. The team instantly saw $800,000 slip away and then were so rattled they lost the rest of the money in the remainder of the game.

But then came the internet chatter — what if "Million Dollar Money Drop" was the party who got it wrong? It turns out Post-Its were available before the Walkman, having been invented in 1977 and sold in some stores before national rollout began in 1980. Executive producer Jeff Apploff released a statement saying, "In this case, our research team spoke directly with 3M, and they confirmed that although they had given out free samples in test markets in 1977 and 1978, it wasn't until 1980 that Post-Its were sold in stores. Million Dollar Money Drop stands behind the answer that was revealed on the show." The series was canceled after its first season.

Everybody on Get a Clue needed a clue or two

A fixture on the Game Show Network since 2020, "Get a Clue" is a quick-moving word association game, similar to the various "Pyramid" game shows. In the show's early episodes, a team consisted of four members. To maximize the amount of cash they can win in a bonus round, they have to get eight correct responses out of one another in under a minute, using related terms to prompt one another into utter a specific word. It's a pretty simple concept, but one group that came to play "Get a Clue" in 2020 couldn't get the hang of it.

First, contestant No. 1 tries to get contestant No. 2 to guess "moped" by saying "Umm," waving her hands around, and sighing in frustration without giving any hints. The team opts to pass, and contestant No. 2 tells contestant No. 3 that the term in question refers to the thing "on the end of your hand" and "it's what the cops take." Contestant No. 3 guesses "fingerprint," but that's not correct because the secret word was actually "fingerpaint." Contestant No. 2, confused and bewildered, just keeps adamantly stating "fingerprint," leading host Rob Belushi to pass the game on to Contestant No. 3, who successfully leads Contestant No. 4 to answer "coat hanger." But then, the clock runs out, with the whole team having managed just that one response out of the required eight.

Hunting for the right Jeopardy! response

One massive error on a game show is enough to enter a person into the hall of fame for televised mistakes. To make two or more big goofs is almost unthinkable. But Karen Morris made "Jeopardy!" history on an episode that aired in March 2023 by not only overly waging on a late-game "Daily Double," but then providing back-to-back incorrect answers.

Morris led her competitors by a margin of more than $14,000 and then bet a whopping $10,000 on the "Daily Double." Concerning painter Hans Holbein the Younger, Morris didn't know the answer, and there wasn't enough time left in the game to get her score boosted, so she entered "Final Jeopardy," and the category "American Novelists," with $11,400. Still in first place, she didn't make a safe bet to stay competitive with her opponents in case she got the response wrong — which she did. The proper reply, offered by contestants Melissa and Zach, was "Catch-22" author Joseph Heller; Morris wrote down "Hunter S. Thompson." She lost her $6,001 miscalculated bet and finished in third place. Because she had a sizable lead, had she not wagered a penny on either difficult prompt, Morris might have kept her $21,800 and made it out unscathed in first place.