The Answer: The Cabinet Member Who Finished Second on Celebrity 'Jeopardy'

November 21, 2006

The Question: Who is Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings?

Ms. Spellings, the first sitting cabinet member to appear on Jeopardy, finished second on the show tonight, besting a one-time “sexiest man alive” but losing to an actor best known for playing Lenny on Laverne and Shirley.

Ms. Spellings struggled in the first round of the quiz show, which tonight pitted celebrities against each other to raise money for charity. She finished with negative $400 after she incorrectly guessed that the “henge” in “Stonehenge” refers to a tower. It is a circle.

But she rebounded in Round 2, offering correct answers to questions about food (answers: bananas and haggis) and weather (answer: wind chill). She closed out the round with $2,000.

She lost $1,200 early in the Double Jeopardy round when — apparently confused by an impersonation by the host, Alex Trebek — she provided the name of the actor (Humphrey Bogart) rather than the film (Casablanca). But she redeemed herself in the language category, recognizing the Russian word for vodka and offering the Spanish phrase for “thank you” (por favor) and the Japanese title of respect (san). After correctly answering three more questions — one about the number of strings on a harp and two on stock-market symbols (XOM is Exxon Mobil and TWX is Time Warner) — she entered the Final Jeopardy round with $9,600.

The Final Jeopardy category was “Book to Film,” and the question asked contestants to name the Harper Lee book that had its premiere as a movie at Radio City Music Hall, where tonight’s show was filmed last month. Ms. Spellings wagered $1,500, and she answered correctly (To Kill a Mockingbird), bringing her final score to $11,100.

But she was no match for the actor Michael McKean of the mockumentaries This Is Spinal Tap and A Mighty Wind, who won mightily, with $47,200. The actor Hill Harper of the drama series CSI: NY, named one of the “sexiest men alive” by People magazine in 2004, finished third, with $6,800.

On Celebrity Jeopardy, winners receive $50,000 for the charities of their choice, and the second- and third-place finishers each get $25,000 for their chosen charities. Secretary Spellings’s winnings will go to ProLiteracy Worldwide, an international adult-literacy organization that was picked by Jeopardy to comply with government ethics rules, Mr. Trebek said.