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Jeopardy's 'Mad Genius' doesn't want to wind up like lottery winners

Arthur Chu's 11-game winning streak on Jeopardy came to an end Wednesday night.  (Photo: Courtesy Jeopardy Productions, Inc.)

The #ChuChuTrain has left the station.

The infamous “Jeopardy” anti-hero Arthur Chu ended his 11-game winning streak on Wednesday night, after a painful romping by Diana Peloquin, a graduate student from Ann Arbor, Mich.

Chu’s final winnings tally: $297,200 —making him the 8th-winningest contestant in the show’s 30-year history.

Nearly $300,000 isn’t exactly Ken Jennings money and it’s certainly not quit-your-job-and-buy-a-beach house money, but no one would begrudge Chu, a 30-year-old insurance compliance officer from Broadview Heights, Ohio, a shopping spree or two.

After catching up with him by phone this week, it’s clear that Chu’s penchant for strategy didn’t end on the “Jeopardy” stage — he’s already plotting how best to use his bounty.

“I don’t want to be a jerk to my employer, and I don’t want to count on any other opportunities coming up [because of the show],” Chu said. “Of all the lottery winners, the only ones who still have money today are the ones who kept their jobs.”

Since game show winnings are taxed like any other income source, Chu will likely wind up seeing nearly half of his loot go to Uncle Sam. Ohio's income tax for taxpayers earning more than $200,000 is set at 5.4% and Chu's winnings will put him in the second highest federal income tax bracket, which carries a tax rate of 35%. On his game winnings alone, that would amount to a $120,131 tax bill.

Gregg Wind, a CPA and financial advisor in Los Angeles, says the biggest challenge with anyone dealing with windfall money is figuring out how to make it stretch. Chu is only 30, with at least another 30 to 40 working years ahead and plans to start a family and buy a home.

“Chu sounds like a guy who has a good head on his shoulders and if I were him, I’d make a stake in my future,” Wind said. “I suppose if he was 75 years old, he could put more money toward the good times, but he is in a great position to do both.”

So far, Chu has done well managing the temptation to splurge — mostly because he hasn't actually received his winnings yet. His stint on the show was filmed during one week in November, and because of a show hiatus and other special programming, his shows took a while to finally get on the air. Per Jeopardy policy, they have until 120 days until a contestant's final show to mail them a check.

Even though he isn't expecting his Jeopardy check until summertime, Chu admits it was hard to resist going a little overboard with presents at Christmas, knowing what was coming to him. He dipped into his savings to give his brother a new TV and a fancy graphing calculator for his mother, who's a teacher.

"My family has been really excited," Chu said. "My sister was recently diagnosed with Lupus and she says having all this going on has been a positive beacon for her."

When the real money comes, he plans on taking a trip to China. Eventually, he’d like to donate to a charity or two.

“I’ve been doing a lot of research and it’s been an interesting process of discovery for me," he said. “Fibromyalgia is one of the causes I care about, but also a lot of other things."

Chu has said in other interviews that he’d also consider buying a home, but he stopped short of committing to the idea when we asked him.  After watching homeowners struggle through the recent financial crisis, Chu isn't quite ready to risk it. 

“People used to buy a house thinking it was a safe investment and it wasn’t really,” he said.

He has a point, but using windfall money for a down payment on a house isn’t always a bad idea.

“Using the money to buy a house is nice for a couple of reasons, because owning a house usually means you’ll be able to itemize your deductions on your income taxes, ” Wind said. “You can deduct things like charitable contributions, medical expenses, those kinds of deductions that are only open to homeowners. And hopefully you’re building equity over the long haul.” 

But a house can wait. In the meantime, Chu has plenty of other decisions on his plate. He has dabbled in acting and voice-over work, and his stint on the show could be a career boost.

“I think people have been responding to my voice and have enjoyed what I’ve had to say,” he said. “People have asked me to write a book, do a column, a documentary. But we’ll see where these next possible steps pan out and if anyone’s still interested.”

At this point, he’s taking it week by week.

“Next week, there’s going to be more media and hopefully things will get back to normal again.  I’m doing a community theater production that I’d like to focus on,”  he said.

“I got this far by being a hard-nosed realist. Why stop now?”

Want to beat Chu at his own game? Here are 7 game show strategies that work >

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