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.

National Journal
Lucia Graves
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Lucia Graves
Feb. 6, 2014, 11:02 a.m.

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:

Why we got bored of the NSA story. Hint: rhymes with Shed­ward Slowden ht­tp://t.co/5KJqT­wzlVi

— Lu­cia Graves (@lu­cia_­graves) Janu­ary 22, 2014

@ar­thur_af­fect Dam­mit, that’s a good point! I should have in­cluded that.

— Lu­cia Graves (@lu­cia_­graves) Janu­ary 22, 2014

@lu­cia_­graves Every state should have bot­tom-of-the-bar­rel fin­an­cial reg­u­la­tion to get cred­it card cos to move there?

— Ar­thur Chu (@ar­thur_af­fect) Janu­ary 23, 2014

@ar­thur_af­fect I need to hire you as a writ­ing con­sult­ant.

— Lu­cia Graves (@lu­cia_­graves) Janu­ary 23, 2014

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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