Watching Jeopardy! is usually an educational experience for fans, but right now, it's the show that's learning a lesson. In the episode that aired on Monday, June 21, Jeopardy! included an offensive clue that led to serious backlash for the long-running game show. The clue was about postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), and the clue referred to the disorder with an outdated and offensive nickname.
Jeopardy! immediately began receiving criticism from viewers and from an organization focused on disorders of the autonomic nervous system. The show has since issued a response.
Read on to find out why the clue was called "outdated" and "misogynistic" and to see how Jeopardy! responded.
First, here's what the clue actually said.
The statement in question was part of a category called "Plain-named Maladies" during Monday's episode, which was hosted by guest Savannah Guthrie. The clue read, "Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome is also known as Grinch syndrome because this organ is too small." The answer they were looking for was, "What is the heart?"
The backlash was due, in part, to the nickname the show used.
The organization Dysautonomia International, which "raises funds for research and promotes awareness of disorders of the autonomic nervous system," led the charge when it came to pointing out the issue with Jeopardy!'s clue. On Monday, the organization tweeted, "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 Promoting outdated misogynistic terms to describe a debilitating autonomic nervous system disorder that impacts millions of Americans is not cool.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."
The group also tweeted an image of the clue on the board and wrote, "This appeared on Jeopardy tonight. 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. We'd love to see real questions about the autonomic nervous system."
Many viewers with POTS also tweeted about finding the clue problematically worded.
Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome does not usually involve having a smaller than normal heart.
The Grinch in Dr. Seuss' classic children's book is described as having a heart "two sizes too small." So the clue wasn't just seen as insensitive, but also inaccurate. People with POTS don't usually have abnormally sized hearts.
According to Johns Hopkins, "POTS is a form of dysautonomia—a disorder of the autonomic nervous system." It is a blood circulation disorder that involves the heart rate increasing when one goes from laying down to standing upright and specific symptoms that occur when this happens, including fatigue, light-headedness, brain fog, heart palpitations, and more. John Hopkins explains that "in most patients with POTS, the structure of the heart itself is normal."
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The clue was called "misogynistic" for a specific reason.
It's more immediately clear why the clue is considered "outdated"—the phrase "Grinch syndrome" is inaccurate and offensive. As for why Dysautonomia International would call it misogynistic, that's because POTS is more common in women than men, the clue downplays the seriousness of the disorder, and there are discrepancies in the way women and men receive medical treatment in general—not just for POTS.
Jeopardy! issued a formal apology.
On Tuesday, Jeopardy! apologized for the clue in a tweet. "Yesterday's program included a clue about postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS)," it reads. "After hearing from the community, we found we used an outdated and inaccurate term for this disorder, and we apologize."
In response, Dysautonomia International wrote, "Update… Jeopardy has apologized. Thank to all of the patients, caregivers and medical professionals who spoke up."