First, when you re-watch, Blitzer may have tanked … but it wasn't quite as drastic as it looks in that photo, which is from the end of the Double Jeopardy! round. When recently shown the image above during an interview in Washington, Trebek said at first that he didn't remember the episode. But contrary to popular belief, Trebek added, Blitzer did have some "Jeopardy!" skill.
"Wolf had done well on a previous appearance on 'Jeopardy!,' but on this game, the categories didn't line up with his areas of expertise," Trebek said. "And Andy Richter was probably as good a 'Celebrity Jeopardy!' player as we have ever had on the program."
While none of the players wanted to talk about the episode (Blitzer and Delany did not return requests for comment, and Richter declined), it's true that Richter dominated at an unusual pace on that day. When the show returned for the second half, Richter was far ahead, though the discrepancy didn't look quite as bad: Richter had $11,800, Delany had $3,600, and Blitzer had $1,400. Not great, but at least he wasn't in the negatives.
Then, Blitzer jumped to $1,800 by answering a question about baby boomers, and followed it up with another $400 by naming "an exclusive grade of beef comes from cattle raised in a Japanese seaport of the same name." (What is Kobe?)
Unfortunately, $2,200 was as far as Blitzer would go. The fall began with an innocuous clue about noodles: "The name of this pasta similar to penne means 'little moustaches' — doesn't sound so tasty now," Trebek said.
Blitzer buzzed in. "What is fettuccine?" he guessed.
Nope. Richter got it (mostaccioli) and it was all downhill from there. Sitting at $600, Blitzer thought he started to climb again when he guessed "Julia Childs" for an answer about cookbooks. That raised his score to $1,000. Then, a few questions later, Trebek said there was a score update from producers: Blitzer's answer was right about cookbooks, but because he put an "s" at the end of Julia's last name, it didn't count, which lowered his score to $200.
Soon, Blitzer guessed "Jerusalem" instead of "Bethlehem" as the town where Jesus and King David hailed from. That sent him spiraling into the negatives, and he never recovered. The rest of the game was a disaster, and he missed more questions in the "E Times Three" category, where each answer must have three "e's."
Blitzer (whose job is to bring knowledge to the world) eventually sat at $-4,600 as Richter (a late-night comedy sidekick) continued to crush it, getting nearly every question and eventually earning $39,000. In a 2012 interview with Esquire, Richter downplayed his trivia achievement, crediting his buzzer skills and calling the show "largely an athletic competition involving just the thumb." He also refused to boast about his tremendous victory over Blitzer: "People are constantly wanting to give me figurative high-fives over that. But I'm a little queasy about it. The poor guy was really lost. I just felt kinda bad for him," Richter said.
On the episode, Trebek was also kind as the game ended. "Wolf, things have not worked out as well as you had hoped for, I'm sure," he said generously. "Andy's so much faster on that signaling device today." In an even more embarrassing twist, producers were forced to give Blitzer a pity $5,600 bonus so he could climb back to $1,000 and participate in final "Jeopardy!," because show policy states that every celebrity must have a chance in the final round, given the money goes to charity.
And what do you know? Blitzer easily conquered the final "Jeopardy!" in the category "Famous Actors." The clue: "Ironically, he lost the leading role in the 1960 play 'The Best Man' because he didn't look presidential." Blitzer correctly guessed Ronald Reagan, bringing his total score to $2,000. Richter also got it right and wound up with $68,000.
So in the end, it was all okay — even if that screenshot of Blitzer lives on forever and the incident resulted in headlines like "Wolf Blitzer loses 'Jeopardy!,' dignity." Trebek, however, isn't worried about any unfortunate effect.
"It obviously hasn't cost Wolf anything because he's still hosting his very popular CNN show," Trebek said. "It's just that on that particular day the stars didn't line up as well as they could have. That's all."
Ellen McCarthy contributed to this report.