Cheating, Scandal, and Drama: Five Famous (and Infamous) Trivia Scandals

(Last Updated On: February 23, 2023)


Like any competitive game, there’s always the possibility of cheating and scandal in any form of trivia. Here are some of the most infamous  trivia scandals of all time:

The “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” Scandal

In 2001, Charles Ingram became the first person to win the jackpot on the UK game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. But it was later revealed that Ingram, his wife, and a third accomplice had used a system of coughs and signals to cheat their way to the top. The trio was eventually convicted of fraud. Check out some of the footage from Ingram’s episode here.

The Ineligible Teammate Scandal

In a turn of events, the 2009 winners of University Challenge, Corpus Christi College, Oxford, led by their “intellectual blitzkrieg” captain, Gail Trimble, were stripped of their title after it was discovered that one of their team members was ineligible. Sam Kay, a member of the Corpus Christi team, had actually graduated in June 2008 and was working at an accounting firm  during the filming of the University Challenge.

After an investigation, the BBC announced that they would be stripping Corpus Christi of their title and awarding it to the runners-up in the grand final, Manchester University. This controversial decision, made over a decade ago, still serves as a cautionary tale for future contestants to ensure that all team members meet the eligibility requirements of competitions.

Who in the World is Nee Lambert?

Not all trivia scandals are hight stakes. The prevalence of smartphones at pub quizzes has made correct answers just a quick Google search away. it can be hard to catch cheaters, especially when they can claim to be texting a friend or checking the latest TikTok video.

However, one pub trivia player in Newcastle was caught cheating for a particularly silly reason. When asked the name of the actress who plays Skyler White in Breaking Bad, they answered “Nee Lambert”. Confused by this answer, the quiz host, Cheish Merryweather, decided to look up the actress’s name and found that the top result on Wikipedia for Skyler White had “née Lambert” in parentheses after the character name, referring to her maiden name and not the actress who played her (Anna Gunn).

Which makes us wonder how many times people answered Nee Gellar as the actress who played Monica on Friends.

Quiz Show

The infamous quiz show scandal of the 1950s remains one of the most talked-about cheating incidents in game show history. It involved a man named Charles Van Doren, who became a household name after appearing on the popular NBC show “Twenty One.”

In an effort to boost ratings and add more drama to the program, Van Doren was supplied with the questions and answers before the show aired. He appeared on the program for 14 weeks, earning a staggering $128,000, and becoming a star. The game show’s ratings went through the roof as viewers tuned in to see if his winning streak would continue.

“Twenty One” repeatedly denied rumors that the show was fixed. However, on November 2, 1959, Van Doren admitted to congressional investigators that the show had supplied him with the material beforehand. The revelation changed the rules surrounding game shows and made cheating on them illegal.

Van Doren pled guilty to second-degree perjury but served no jail time. The scandal was documented in the Oscar-nominated film “Quiz Show,” which starred Ralph Fiennes as Van Doren and was directed by Robert Redford.

The Spanish Shazam Scandal

When a contestant on the Spanish game show “Pasapalabra” was caught trying to use an app to cheat, it caused quite a stir.

The contestant in question was Adriana Abenia, a well-known Spanish actress and TV presenter. She had attempted to use the app Shazam, which can identify songs and artists, to cheat on a round where contestants had to guess the title and artist of different songs. However, her attempt was foiled when her phone lit up and began vibrating between her legs during the taping. Abenia was caught before she was able to use the app to cheat her way to the answer.

“To be honest, I think she deserves a special prize anyway because, in seven years of organizing this TV contest, nobody has ever done anything like this and certainly not quite as brazenly,” said the show’s host, Christian Galvez.

Don’t Be a Cheater

All these cheating attempts are a reminder that cheating has no place in pub trivia or game shows. It’s important to remember that the thrill of competition comes from testing your knowledge and skills, not from finding ways to cheat the system. So next time you’re at a pub trivia night or game show, play fair and have a good time!

About the Author:

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Mark is the current Vice President of Entertainment at Sporcle. He founded Motor City Trivia back in 2009, which is what Sporcle Events is today. After hosting and attending thousands of pub quizzes over the last decade plus, he likes to write about some of his favorite trivia tidbits.