Jeopardy!’s revolving door of guest hosts has kept the show in the headlines for months, but now, Jeopardy! is in the news for far less welcome reasons. A clue read during Monday night’s episode, which was guest-hosted by Today Show anchor Savannah Guthrie, has drawn criticism from viewers at home, several of whom are calling for an apology.
The offending clue read, "Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome is also known as Grinch syndrome because this organ is too small," with the correct response being, "What is the heart?"
According to the Cleveland Clinic, Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS) is a medical condition involving the body’s nervous system, affecting blood flow and circulation. Patients with POTS struggle to keep stable blood pressure, meaning that when they stand from a reclining position, they can experience rapid heart rate, dizziness, lightheadedness, fainting, abdominal pain, chronic fatigue, and other debilitating symptoms. Medications, compression stockings, and blood pressure monitoring are used to mitigate symptoms and regulate circulation. POTS primarily affects women between the ages of 13 and 50, with the condition often linked to "pregnancy, major surgery, trauma, or a viral illness." Physicians have reported a recent uptick in patients with POTS symptoms, linked to COVID-19.
As soon as the clue was read, Twitter lit up with viewers who disputed the colloquial term “Grinch syndrome.” One viewer wrote, “Hey Jeopardy, this is 100% wrong and irritates me to see MY chronic illness misrepresented. Get your facts right!” Another wrote, “I was diagnosed with POTS in 2018. Not only is this gross, it's inaccurate. POTS patients do not have smaller hearts than the average person, and I've certainly never heard anyone refer to the condition as such. Are the people over at Jeopardy okay?” Dysautonomia International, a nonprofit dedicated to raising money and awareness of autonomic nervous system disorders, took to Twitter to set the record straight, saying, “Grinch syndrome is an offensive term. Can you imagine Jeopardy making light of cancer or MS patients with a ‘funny’ name for their debilitating health condition? Not acceptable.”
Hey @Jeopardy no one with any credibility calls POTS "Grinch Syndrome." Promoting outdated misogynistic terms to describe a debilitating autonomic nervous system disorder that impacts millions of Americans is not cool. We request an apology on behalf of our community. Do better.
— Dysautonomia Intl. (@Dysautonomia) June 22, 2021
Actress Mara Wilson, who has spoken about living with dysautonomia, chimed in to say, "It's also just not true! It was based on one doctor's contentious theory proposed more than ten years ago. There's no scientific consensus. Disappointed to see Jeopardy spreading medical misinformation."
The viewers’ grievances are backed up by medical facts. Johns Hopkins Medicine notes that, "In most patients with POTS, the structure of the heart itself is normal." The term “Grinch syndrome” emerged from a 2011 study, which argued that POTS "was attributable to a small heart coupled with reduced blood volume." The study has been widely refuted by members of the medical community, while the term “Grinch syndrome” is only used in reference to the study.
Ahead of Tuesday night’s episode, Jeopardy! tweeted an apology:
Yesterday’s program included a clue about postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS). After hearing from the community, we found we used an outdated and inaccurate term for this disorder, and we apologize.
— Jeopardy! (@Jeopardy) June 22, 2021
This misstep isn’t Jeopardy!’s first dalliance with medical misinformation this year. When Dr. Mehmet Oz was selected to guest host the show, scores of viewers joined 500 former contestants in criticizing the move, accusing Oz of spreading pseudoscience on his talk show and responding inadequately to the COVID-19 pandemic. The show has a lot to answer for, but headlines may soon turn back to the search for its permanent host, set to reach its conclusion this fall.
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