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I Did Improv With the 'Jeopardy Villain,' and He’s Exactly as He Appears on Television

If you aren't a fan of the "Jeopardy Jerk" yet, you will be.

Jeopardy sensation Arthur Chu has polarized fans with his controversial game-theory-inspired strategy.(JEOPARDY!/ PHOTOGRAPHED BY MENTAL FLOSS'S CHRIS HIGGINS)

photo of Lucia Graves
February 6, 2014

I first met Arthur Chu, the "mad genius" cum "Jeopardy villain," in an improv class with Washington Improv Theater back in 2011, several lifetimes ago in blogger years. Our roughly 12-person class met every Monday once a week for several months, and I remember thinking even then that he was much smarter than any of us, in that sort of geeky mastermind way that the world doesn't always fully appreciate.

As it turns out, he is, and as it turns out, it does.

Chu angered the Internet trolls this week with his controversial Jeopardy strategy, which includes "ruining" the game by using an "evil" game-theory-inspired strategy to dominate his competition. So far he's won $102,000 across four matches, appeared in a dozen-plus major media outlets, and has very little sympathy for the haters. Quoth Chu: "I have myself and my wife and our future family to think about, and I think it's absolutely crazy that people would think it's reasonable to ask me to give up a chance at winning tens of thousands of dollars—life-changing money, even after taxes—because some people on the Internet think it makes the game unpleasant to watch."


His unconventional Jeopardy approach includes annoyingly aggressive buzzing, bouncing from one category to the next in search of Daily Doubles, and curbing his wager amounts in final wager Jeopardy to strategically tie his opponent. The method combines the teachings of former Jeopardy champion Keith Williams, who currently runs The Final Wager blog, and Chuck Forrest, who first invented the eponymous "Forrest Bounce" technique back in 1985 (for more on exactly how Chu cons the system, read this and then this). Mostly though, he's just an extremely impressive know-it-all who's fast with a buzzer.

That translates easily into his improv personality. Anyone who's done any improv will be familiar with the "yes, and" rule, wherein you say "yes" to any ideas people offer you in a scene and you add to them creatively. Chu was always extremely adept at building momentum by taking scenes in interesting new directions. Sadly, I can't remember specific examples anymore but I do remember thinking, "What?! How did he think of that?" Now, I suppose, I know: His brain moves really, really fast.

Chu has since moved to Broadview Heights, a suburb of Cleveland, but his smartypants-ness transcends even that distance. He follows me on Twitter and several times in just the past month, when I've tweeted one of my stories, he's tweeted back at me with an alternative angle or an example I wish I'd thought to include.

A few examples of our recent exchanges:

He currently works in insurance compliance but has long aspired to be an actor. I wouldn't have predicted that his first big television break would happen on Jeopardy, but in retrospect it makes sense.

He'll return to the airwaves on Feb. 24 after the "Battle of the Decades," a tournament in celebration of the game show's 30th anniversary. Expect to see all the former Jeopardy champions, including one Richard Cordray of Consumer Financial Protection Bureau fame.

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