Arthur Chu is a rumbled, pudgy 30-year-old Cleveland insurance analyst who has turned his “Jeopardy!” nine-game winning streak into an improbable national conversation. He’s won $261,000, making him the third-highest money winner in the show’s 30-year history. And he returns on the March 10 episode to see if he can add to his cash total.
On his way to racking up major money, though, Chu garnered an avalanche of negative tweets and publicity about how he is an “evil genius” who has “ruined the game.”
As a five-time “Jeopardy!” champion and Tournament of Champions semi-finalist, I can’t say if Chu is a genius. I certainly can say he is not an evil genius. He is smart, but so is everyone else who has appeared on “Jeopardy!” — the audition process is rigorous. What makes Chu so different?
Let’s take a moment to consider the crimes of Arthur Chu. The way he’s playing, he may be with us for days to come.
‘Jeopardy!’ Crime No. 1: He skips around the board.
Like all good “Jeopardy!” players, Chu did his homework. He studied what was going to be asked. He also studied how to play the game.
Landing on the Daily Double is a clear advantage. You can significantly better your total if you answer right. Even if you bet the minimum ($5), you take away this potential advantage from your opponent.
In “Jeopardy!” circles — yes, there is such a thing, as horrifying as it sounds — the Daily Double hunt is called the “Forrest Bounce,” after Chuck Forrest, winner of the 1986 Tournament of Champions.
So why don’t more contestants use the Forrest Bounce?
Because they can’t. Choosing the clues, ringing in, answering correctly and figuring out what kind of accent Alex Trebek is speaking in is hard enough. Bouncing around the board between categories adds one more challenging dimension to a game that plays 1,000 times faster in person than at home on your couch.
Just like there is more to the game of tennis than hitting the ball back to your opponent, there is more to “Jeopardy!” than knowing the answers to the clues. Chu knew this going in and prepared himself.
‘Jeopardy!’ Crime No. 2: Chu plays to tie, not to win. This one doesn’t bother me, because everyone’s got to play his or her own game, but this point appears to have touched a nerve. Chu explained in interviews that with a tie, both players who tie for first advance to the next game, setting them up in a position to win even more money.
Again, I think this speaks to how well he prepared himself. He came up with a Final Jeopardy betting strategy and executed it to perfection instead of thinking about a Final Jeopardy bet for the first time when he was standing in front of a television camera.
‘Jeopardy!’ Crime No. 3: He has no personality, or worse, a bad personality. Imagine boiling your life down to a 10-second conversation with Trebek. Maybe you want to talk about your doctorate in English literature. Guess what? You’re not the first person with a doctorate in English to appear on “Jeopardy!,” and he doesn’t give two shakes of a rat’s tail.
The contestant coordinators put five facts about your life on a card and give that to Trebek, who is a man of broad, eccentric interests. During my run he talked about his financial stewardship of an Alaskan musk ox farm, the skill of the Mexican immigrants who tile his home’s roof and the best place for a steak in Los Angeles.
Trebek asks what Trebek wants to ask, and in one game I played that was gray water with an engineer. If you think Chu is talking about ridiculous or boring things, Trebek is a much to blame as Chu.
The contestants I’ve gotten to know are hilarious and dynamic and enjoy throwing a few drinks down. If you invited them out after they got their “Jeopardy!” checks, they’d buy the drinks, too.
Chu’s Twitter feed (@arthur_affect) suggests he also is prime party material, though he does firmly put himself in the nerd category by telling the A.V. Club in an interview his dream “Jeopardy!” board would include categories based on science fiction and video games. Having suffered through a long conversation in the “Jeopardy!” green room on TARDIS (yes, I had to look it up, too), I came to the conclusion years ago that the really cool kids go on “Wheel of Fortune.”
Is Chu the greatest “Jeopardy!” villain ever? No, he might be the greatest hero since Ken Jennings. That’s because Chu is getting America to watch and talk about the game.
Kara Spak is a five-time “Jeopardy!” champion and a freelance writer living on the Northwest Side.