Jeopardy is thought of as a gentleman's game, but it's still a reality TV show with a big monetary prize at the end. And like in any reality contest — be it Jeopardy, Survivor, or The Bachelor — when that prize is in sight, people act differently.
So it is tonight that after a three-week break, Jeopardy's first true villain, Arthur Chu and his admitted "dick moves," return to try to continue his four-match streak and further his $102,800 in winnings. When he first appeared in late January, Chu angered some viewers with his unconventional strategies, a mix of game theory and no-holds-barred tactics. He rapidly jumped from category to category in search of Daily Doubles, wagered in Final Jeopardy to go for the tie, and interrupted Alex Trebek to get to the next question, all with a cold, robotic, and confident style. He isn't the first Jeopardy contestant to use those tactics, but no one else has put them all together so aggressively and unrepentantly.
Chu the voice actor and everyday person isn't much like his on-screen persona. But in an interview with The Wire, he recited the common refrains of reality show villains everywhere. A sample:
- "When I play games, I play games to win."
- "I’m playing for real money, and the rules of the game are what they are."
- "There’s a whole year’s worth of pay riding on every game that I won, and I’m not thinking about being nice to the camera because I’m thinking about getting that money that’s sitting up there on the board."
He also told The Wall Street Journal, "If you have a problem with it, don’t hate the player — hate the game."
It took some time, but Chu has come to embrace his status as the bad boy of Jeopardy. Like fellow game show villains before him — think Richard Hatch and his constant nudity and brazen alliance-building on Survivor — Chu has little care for his fellow contestants or for those watching at home. It's about that big payday.
That approach to any game show is so obvious, and yet Chu seems like the first contestant to truly embrace the carnage that ensues when you play to win the game. Take his tactic of jumping without pause between categories, a strategy known as the "Forrest Bounce." Chu took that tactic to another level, and admitted that he intentionally shortened category names and numbers to force his fellow contestants to strain to hear. "It’s all to keep the other contestants on their toes so they don’t have time to settle down and get into a groove and think," Chu said. For example, hearing "19th Century Women Authors for $1600 please, Alex" makes for a much different experience than hearing a curt "Women 16." Chu's darting between categories are just as hard on casual viewers at home, too. We want to see the trivia and answer it on our own, not to be pulled here and there by contestants.
Even Chu admits he understands why people don't like his on-screen persona. "When I was on the show, I was so laser focused. And so people were like, this guy is a robot or this guy is creepy, you know. I kind of agree," Chu said. Some elements of Asian stereotyping and xenophobia play a role in his villainy, too. Arthur's glasses, disheveled hair, unkempt appearance, and nerdy demeanor fit every stereotype of the prototypical Asian dork. A contrast of Arthur and Ken Jennings shows two idealized versions of smart nerds. Only one of them has emerged as the bad guy, though.
For years, Jeopardy has portrayed itself as a straightforward quiz show targeting the high-minded among us hoping for some casual trivia. But Arthur Chu's disruptive run as the villain is a good reminder that at it's most basic, Jeopardy isn't much different than the reality shows we love to hate.