The Urbanna Oyster Festival's shucking contest serves as the state championship. Photo: Larry Chowning

Small-Town VA Oyster Festival Stars in Jeopardy Question

A town of less than 500 people doesn’t often get a nod from a popular national TV show. But Urbanna, Virginia, did just that when the Urbanna Oyster Festival’s annual shucking contest was used as a Jeopardy clue this month.

On July 4 during Double Jeopardy, the category was “US Festivals” and the clue was, “At the Urbanna, VA. Oyster Festival, this contest is mainly about speed but shell fragments & clean separation also count.”

The clue in the July 4th Double Jeopardy round. The contestant answered it correctly.

The answer (in the form of a question, of course) was, “What is oyster shucking.” It earned the contestant $800.

The crowd favorite shucking contest, which serves as the Virginia State Oyster Shucking Championship, is partially rated on speed but also on the overall half-shell presentation.

When there is little to no shell chips or grit in the presentation and there is a clean cut of the meat from the shell, these contribute to a higher score.

This was the second time the Urbanna festival has been featured on Jeopardy. Several years ago, the contest clue was what is the main food featured at Urbanna’s fall festival. The contestant answered the question wrong by guessing clams.

The Urbanna Oyster Festival is one of the largest small-town festivals in the State of Virginia. During the first weekend in November, the festival annually draws between 40,000 and 50,000 people to the waterfront town on the Rappahannock River.

In 1982, festival officials celebrated the event’s 25th anniversary by introducing the first oyster shucking contest. Since then, male and female winners are named state champions each year and compete in the U.S. oyster shucking championships in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, annually held on the third weekend of October. The winners at St. Mary’s are the US champions and compete in September at the World Oyster Shucking Championship in Galway, Ireland.

The colonial port town of Urbanna is located on the Rappahannock River where historically oyster grounds near the town produce some of the finest market-size oysters in Virginia’s portion of Chesapeake Bay.

The Urbanna Oyster Festival was founded in 1958 as “Urbanna Days” and a few years later organizers changed the name to the oyster festival in honor of the generations of oystermen and oyster shuckers there and to acknowledge the role the oyster industry plays in the cultural and economic life of the town.

The 66th annual Urbanna Oyster Festival will be held this Nov. 3-4.

-Larry Chowning