Love him or hate him, “Jeopardy” fans will be stuck with Arthur Chu for a while.
The controversial champion buzzed his way to his fifth straight victory Monday night, sealing a spot in future tournaments and adding another $20,000 to his winnings, for a total of $123,600.
Chu, a 30-year-old history buff from Broadview Heights, Ohio, stunned fans of the long-running game show earlier this month, using unorthodox strategies to psych out his opponents and keeping such a heavy hand on the buzzer that he sometimes buzzed in before host Alex Trebek could finish reading the questions.
But Monday’s showdown was far from an easy victory. Chu was clearly struggling early on in the game, looking like the mojo was seeping right out of him everytime competitors beat him to the buzzer. His favorite technique, the “Forrest Bounce,” in which he picks random categories to make the board appear jumbled in order to confuse his competitors, was rendered useless. Though viewers at home couldn’t see, he was sweating the competition — literally.
“I was drenched in sweat. It’s tough. I have newfound respect for anyone who comes back a few times because it’s a stamina thing,” Chu told Yahoo Finance Tuesday morning. “At that point all my buzzer mojo was stale. I had to go home and come back to tape and I had to get used to the buzzer again. Initially, that messed me up.”
But he rallied halfway through, thanks to an impulse decision to switch from his dominant right hand to his left hand. That helped to keep him from buzzing in too early, which causes the buzzer to momentarily freeze. By the time he landed in the Final Jeopardy round, he had more than double the winnings of his opponents.
Chu particularly excelled in the quirky "Breakfast foods" category, answering correctly questions about Egg McMuffins and the diner dish "Eggs Over My Hammy." He stumbled in Final Jeopardy, however. Chu answered "Who is William Lloyd Garrison" to the question "Frederick Douglass said this man's 'zeal in the cause of my race was far greater than mine.'" The correct answer was John Brown and cost him $10,000.
But no matter. He was so far ahead that he still won the game.
“It’s been a wild ride,” he said. “After five wins I feel like [I’m] not a flash in the pan anymore and that’s definitely shifting some people’s opinions of me.”
Putting on a show
Fans of the show criticized Chu in earlier games on everything from his buzzing technique to his hair cut, wardrobe and seemingly robotic way of answering questions.
But for Chu, who is a freelance voice actor, seeing himself on TV is more like watching himself as a character in a film — and that’s exactly what he was going for.
“You can’t win a lot on Jeopardy without somehow getting yourself into a zone where things don’t bother you anymore and that means you’re not going to come off normal on TV,” he said. “I said to myself, ‘Hey, I’ve got a script and I’m playing the role of a Jeopardy champion.’ I moderated the way I stand, the way I speak. Having done that, it’s given me a little bit of a buffer in terms of people who hate on me. Clearly, that’s not me up there.”
His opponent, Josh McIlvain, who came in third place in Monday's show, told Yahoo Finance Chu put up a convincing act. But he stopped short of supporting the idea that it was part of a larger strategy.
"He seemed to be all business about it like it was a job for him," McIlvain said. "I was trying to have some fun with it. He was really good at buzzing in, I’ll give him that, but other than that I didn’t notice any strategizing or that he was doing anything unique that I wasn’t trying to do."
Chu live-tweets every show (a habit he says “Jeopardy” producers have praised him for) and retweets just as many words of encouragement as he does scathing insults.
Sophie's denying me my chance to use my awesome strategery— Arthur Chu (@arthur_affect) February 25, 2014
People are asking if my eyes looked like that b/c I was squinting due to the contacts or if it's racial -- honestly I'm not sure— Arthur Chu (@arthur_affect) February 25, 2014
It’s that nonchalant attitude that he credits for helping him bounce back on Monday, even though his opponent, Sophie, kept beating him to he buzzer. When she faltered on a Daily Double and lost her rhythm, he seized on the opportunity.
“So much of the momentum you build in the game is based on psychology,” Chu said. “When she messed up on that Daily Double, it was clearly not a failure of knowledge but of nerves. You could see her confidence start to evaporate after that and something shifted and I was able to take control of the game.”
You can watch Chu’s next round of Jeopardy tonight on ABC at 7:30 p.m. EST. And even if he loses then, he qualifies to come back for the "Tournament of Champions," where five wins is the minimum to enter.