Fans of “Jeopardy” won’t soon forget the name Arthur Chu.
Chu, 30, stunned fans of the long-running game show last week, as he barreled his way past eight competitors to win the game four nights in a row. But it wasn’t his impressive winning streak that turned him into an Internet sensation — it was how he won.
Taking a cue from past “Jeopardy” champions, Chuck Forrest and Keith Williams, who bounced around the board in order to confuse other contestants, Chu decided to toss tradition out the window. Typically, players play 'top to bottom' — selecting a clue with the lowest dollar value and work their way down to higher-valued clues on the bottom of the game board. It’s not a rule, but the game has been played that way for so long that viewers and players alike are accustomed to that progression path.
“I thought [my strategy] would draw attention,” Chu told us when we caught up with him by phone on Monday. “But I never understood why this traditional way of playing the game has been kind of locked in.”
Chu stubbornly targeted the $1,000 clues first, snatching them away from his competitors and jumping around the board to maximize his chances of stumbling on the coveted Daily Double, which are usually hidden among the higher-value clues. He was so intent on winning that he hit the buzzer sometimes before host Alex Trebek could even finish reading the clue.
As a result, the usually streamlined clue board looked uncharacteristically jumbled:
As if he hadn't shaken things up enough already, Chu even bowled over Trebek at times throughout the show. After unlocking a Daily Double for Sports, Chu blurted out a bet for just $5, knowing he wasn't likely to get it right. And before Trebek could finish reading the clue, Chu spoke over the host, saying he didn't know the answer.
Viewers didn’t find his stunts all that amusing. They assailed him online, accusing him of ruining the “fun” of the game, while others called him a “mad genius” and “hero villain.”
Chu seemed a bit dazed by the backlash but had no problem defending his strategy — he’s taken home $102,800 so far and stands to add even more to his loot when his next show airs on Feb. 24.
He credits Forrest and Williams for inspiring him, but it turns out his decision to rebuke tradition had more to do with timing than anything else. Chu, a history buff from Broadview Heights, Ohio, had auditioned for “Jeopardy” two years ago and thought his hopes of earning a spot on the show were all but lost until a producer called him out of the blue in November and told him he would be on the show at the end of the month.
That left him just 30 days to cram.
“A month’s time isn’t that much. If I had had some advanced warning, I would have learned wheelhouse categories, boned up on sports, classic films, opera, things like that,” he said. “But when you know your limitations, you’ve got to learn to leverage knowledge with your strategy.”
Chu, who works for an insurance company and freelances as a voice-over actor, knew he was weak in sports knowledge. In defense of his controversial $5 bet, Chu says he didn't bother to give an answer because he knew he’d never guess right. Fans called him out for being a bad sport, but Chu says it was all about playing to his strengths.
“If I get a Daily Double in sports and I’m pretty sure I’m not gonna know it, why would I take an unnecessary risk?” he said. “I guess people see it as a jerk thing to do, but the benefit in that is that I can take that clue away from someone else who does know about sports.”
As for offending die-hard “Jeopardy” fans, Chu seemed more concerned with Trebek’s reaction than anyone else. Even the host couldn’t hide his irritation when Chu rattled off answers while he was still speaking.
“The crew, the production team and Alex, they want you to take the clues in order. That way, Alex doesn’t have to go hunting around for the right note card when he has a clue,” Chu said. “I hope he wasn’t too mad. I don’t want to antagonize Alex. Alex is a national treasure.”
Fans will see if Chu gets the last laugh when his fifth game, which has already been taped, airs on Feb. 24. With a fifth win, Chu would be guaranteed a spot on the show’s special “champions” episode, where long-running winners go head to head. In the end, he’ll endure a little more public ridicule if it means taking home an even bigger prize. With the winnings, he says he plans on visiting family in China, saving a chunk and donating the rest to a charity benefiting fibromyalgia patients.
“I keep coming back to this: when you’re playing the game up there, you’re playing for real money, and that means a lot to me,” he said. “Maybe I would get impatient at times and I don’t think that in and of itself is something to apologize for.”