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Young 'Jeopardy!' finalist breaks hearts as spelling error seals a loss

Aug. 2, 2013 at 1:08 PM ET

Spelling counts, kids. Especially on "Jeopardy!" it seems. And that's the hard lesson one young player learned this week on the "Kids Week" version of the long-running game show.

Newtown, Conn.'s Thomas Hurley had to know his chances of taking home first place were slim: He went into Final Jeopardy with just $9,600 — a nice second place, but compared to the first-place leader Skyler Hornback, of Sonora, Ky., who had $36,600, it was a pittance. It was going to take a big bet on Hurley's part and/or a big loss on Skyler's part to pull this one off.

Then host Alex Trebek read the question: "Abraham Lincoln called this document, which took effect in 1863, 'a fit and necessary war measure.'" 

The good news: Hurley had the right answer. Well, mostly. When the answers were revealed (third placer Shuli Jones of Toronto, Ont. wrote "the second amendment," which was wrong), Hurley's answer came up: "What is the Emanciptation Proclamation." Right answer, wrong spelling of "Emancipation."

And while the "Jeopardy!" judges have been known to let small spelling errors go, that was not the case in this instance. Hurley lost, and can clearly be seen mouthing the word "What?!" before hanging his head in disappointment.

Even worse, he then had to watch as Hornback — who had already been mentioned as a big Civil War buff — not only got the answer right, he spelled it right and bet big: $30,000. He ended up with $66,600 ("almost a one-day record for 'Jeopardy!'" gushed Trebek).

For anyone who's ever tried, becoming a contestant on "Jeopardy!" is no cakewalk. To make it onto "Jeopardy!" and get to second place in the final round and lose — even in part — based on a single letter, well, that's heartbreaking. 

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