How a Jeopardy champ went from being a despised, overly-aggressive nerd, to a White Knight in the #YesAllWomen conversation – Lauren Conaway’s apology to Arthur Chu and good men everywhere.
From as far back as the third grade, I can remember coming home from school and watching Jeopardy before embarking on my homework. I didn’t know much in those early years of viewing, but as my interests have expanded beyond My Little Pony and Legos, so too, has my knowledge base grown to encompass more Jeopardy-worthy topics, such as politics and culinary history. (Sadly, I still don’t know squat about Popes. Why so many categories about Popes?)
I’m passionate about the game – it’s the first thing I watch when I come home from work and I have been known to score myself in order to “stay sharp.” Yes, I have taken the annual qualifying test to appear on the show. No, I don’t think I passed it. I do, however, know the embarrassment one feels when answering, “What is 11:30?” when someone asks you the time.
This love for the game is precisely what made Arthur Chu’s recent 11-win Jeopardy run so difficult to watch. Possibly the most polarizing contestant in Jeopardy history, Arthur was aggressive in his play and in his betting. A fine strategy, to be sure, and one well-documented as a solid plan by past Jeopardy champions – but not easy for we of average intelligence when playing from home.
Discussion boards across the country were filled with fans wanting to see the kind of “gentlemen’s game” we had grown accustomed to, where we could warm up to the high dollar questions, where we didn’t have to play along with a madman bent on cutting the trivia jugular right from the first click of the buzzer. On social media, people decried his cold demeanor, his ruthless Daily Double hunting, his very obvious clicker mashing and his rapid pace. I was no exception, and would find myself yelling at the TV, at Arthur, even at Alex Trebek from time to time in my helpless rage at my poor performance during his stint on the show. I don’t hate much, but I hated watching Arthur Chu play Jeopardy.
In interviews, Arthur Chu made it very clear that he simply didn’t care about our opinion. His sound bites (and there were many, as Arthur was breaking records daily and pissing more and more people off), were consistent, explaining that he was there to win as much as he could, while he could and everything else was immaterial. That’s certainly reasoning I can understand, because who doesn’t like money? Still, the day Arthur Chu finally lost was a relief. I whooped with joy, along with most of the Jeopardy watching public and prepared to play the game the way it was intended to be played. The polite, gentlemanly way. To put a finer point on it, my way.
There were wrap-up interviews and then the buzz quieted and I thought that was the end of Arthur Chu in my universe. At least, until the recent shootings at the UCSB campus inspired Arthur to pen one of the most thoughtful, timely pieces on the portrayal of women in media that I have ever read from the male perspective. From any perspective, for that matter. I thought I had reached the end of Arthur Chu, until he had the absolute gall to make me adore him.
In his post on The Daily Beast, Arthur talks about how women aren’t objects to be coveted and won, but human beings with the autonomy to make choices regarding the lives they lead, the sex they have and the men and women they love. He points out the sometimes subtle, sometimes frightening misogyny inherent in many of our most beloved movies and TV shows. He addresses the nerds that both he and I know as our brethren and fearlessly calls them out. In the true aggressive style I came to know from him on Jeopardy, wonders bluntly, “What the fuck is wrong with us?” You’ll notice that he even managed to state it in the form of a question.
I think Arthur and I agree – the vast majority of men are decent and admirable and simply trying to make a good life for themselves and their families. He knows that, and I know that. But the fact that he is asking the questions necessary to address a problematic culture where rape goes unreported because to find justice is often too difficult for the victim, where #YesAllWomen isn’t just a hyperbolic hashtag, but a truism of the frequency of sexual harassment and violence against women, that fact speaks volumes to his character.
I’ve known a lot of men like Arthur. I’ve even worked with a lot of men like him, men who are single minded to the point of seeming brusque – and socially awkward to the point of driving me absolutely crazy. For a time, I worked at an engineering firm, which seemed to be a gathering ground for the Arthur’s of the world. Now, seeing Arthur Chu in this new light makes me wonder at how many other unassuming, frustrating and yet, heroic men I’ve missed in my life. How many men have sat in the cubicle next to me, quietly thinking amazing thoughts, and I had no clue? I’m both gratified to know it happens and disappointed in myself that I never really noticed before.
Gentlemen, you surprised me. I had you pegged wrong, and it looks like I have to suck it up and admit it.
So, here goes. Thank you, men of the world, for being my allies. Thank you for supporting women in the fight for equality, even when I wasn’t fully aware of your stake in the game. It’s men like you that steal the power from men like Elliot Rodger and give me back my dignity. Perhaps more to my point, thank you, Arthur Chu. Thank you for starting a necessary conversation. Thank you for seeing women, not as prizes to be won but as people to be respected. I may not want to see you dominate the Jeopardy stage any time soon (your playing style still stings, my friend) but I would be thrilled to see you and your “gentleman’s game” dominate anywhere else you care to raise your voice.
AP Photo/Jeopardy Productions, Inc.