Arthur Chu '08 Continues Polarizing Jeopardy! Run

by Ryan Dougherty

The Arthur Chu Show has returned to Jeopardy!, and there's no sign of it stopping any time soon.

Through five days on the popular game show, the 2008 Swarthmore graduate has racked up $123,600 and a seemingly bottomless pit of reaction from viewers and across all media in the U.S. and beyondLove him or hate him, you're not changing the channel.

[Update: After 11 victories, Chu's run came to an end on Wednesday, Mar. 12.  He finished with $297,200 in total winnings, the third-highest  for a contestant in Jeopardy history. ]

Chu has become a polarizing figure by bucking convention. Reporting for NPR's All Things Considered, Hansi Lo Wang '09 notes that "if there are any unwritten rules to playing Jeopardy!, Chu may have broken them all."

"During his four-day winning streak in late January, he sometimes interrupted host Alex Trebek and cut in before the host could finish a sentence," Wang says. "He often jumped to the hardest clues on the board first and furiously tapped his buzzer whenever he knew the answer."

"Chu is like a rubber ball inside a paint-shaking machine," writes the Toronto Star. "He makes wagers that seem insolent or slapdash - $5 on a Daily Double here, everything on another one there, twice betting to tie during Final Jeopardy. But all he's really doing is following the algebraic wisdom of the number-crunching demigods embedded inside the show's online community."

It's an approach that roils the Twitterverse. One user called him "the worst Jeopardy! contestant of all time," and another wrote, "You're the biggest tool I have ever seen grace the stage - I hope Alex knocks you out."

No need to call Chu for comment. He's a real-time responder.

"[Trebek] knocked me out the moment he walked out onto the stage," he tweets. "Swoons."

The son of Taiwanese immigrants, Chu says the backlash doesn't surprise him.

"I kind of fit a certain stereotype of the hyper-focused, unlikable Asian nerd," he says. "And the fact that I'm the Asian guy means that I'm not the underdog, that I'm the bad guy. And some regular person who the audience can identify with is the underdog."

But as Chu tells The Daily Beast, he knows that much of the viewership "has [his] back." That's everyone from the anonymous tweeter who wrote to "What is, 'The best publicity Jeopardy! has had in years?'" to Chu earlier today to 74-time Jeopardy! winner Ken Jennings.

"The sudden wave of Chu-mosity is largely just a symptom of our modern news cycle," Jennings tells The Daily Beast. "Where one spate of hostile tweets can spawn a million repetitive reaction pieces before the feedback loop dies."

"I never felt disrespected by Arthur," Don Gwinn, a special education teacher from Illinois who lost to Chu in the Jan. 31 game, tells the Toronto Star. "I think people sometimes are a little put off by something that's different. But doing things differently, in a way that works better, that's interesting to me. I like that."

In an extensive piece posted today, The Daily Beast offered some back story on the 30-year-old insurance analyst who also does voice-over work and community theater in Broadview Heights, Ohio:

"There were warning signs. A series of IQ tests in the second grade confirmed that Arthur Chu had a college-level vocabulary. His tiger mom and dad were told to raise him carefully because he could grow up to be a genius who would change the world - or be a serial killer. In his evangelical high school Spanish class, he wrote disturbing surrealist stories; in history class he reenacted the Russian Revolution as a parody of the song "American Pie." After fleeing to Swarthmore, he wore t-shirts and shorts in the winter and was belligerent with professors who were probably not as smart as him."

Chu's wife, Eliza Blair '07, a science fiction writer, has a simpler explanation: "He brings stuff to the table like 'incredible intelligence' and 'infinite trivia fire hose.'"

Even if that hose runs dry soon, Chu may well go down as "the most over-analyzed Jeopardy! contestant of all time," the Toronto Star says.

But if the run continues, Chu may break the internet, along with the bank. Either way, it will be well-documented.

Chu graduated from Swarthmore in 2008 with a B.A. in history. Stories of his success have also appeared on ABC News/Good Morning America, FOX News, and CNN and in Macleans (by Andrew Stobo Sniderman '07), The Guardian (U.K.), Daily Mail (U.K.), The AtlanticUSA TodayBusiness Insiderthe New Yorkerand the New York Post, among many others.