Arthur Chu has used very unique tactics to win four consecutive rounds of Jeopardy. Some people, including the other contestants, aren't so happy with him.
The TV Game Show is a long-time staple of American television. People have a natural tendency to root for the contestant, because most of us would rather see a normal, everyday person make loads of cash rather than see it remain in the hands of TV networks.
However, over the past couple weeks a highly controversial Jeopardy player has emerged and made national headlines. His methods are atypical and ethically debated, but certainly effective.
Meet Arthur Chu, a four-time Jeopardy champion who has won over $100,000 over four consecutive victories. However, it is not Chu’s impressive run that is drawing the applause and ire of the game show community — it’s his methods of winning. Some believe Chu is completely changing the game, while others believe he is destroying its integrity.
A Jeopardy Villain
Arthur is a relentless clicker. He will begin clicking his buzzer as fast as he can even before host Alex Trebek can finish a question. Chu, a graduate of Swarthmore, is quite smart, and he usually knows the answer even before Trebek finishes his sentence.
However, Chu doesn’t know everything about all subjects. For instance, he knows nothing about sports, but will fervently punch the clicker over and over to prevent opponents from answering a question. Needless to say, Chu has drawn some nasty looks and stares from his opponents.
However, Chu’s antics aren’t malicious. The goal of Jeopardy isn’t necessarily to make as much money as possible, but to win the game and advance to the next round where even more money can be made. For that reason, Chu aims not only to get questions right, but to prevent his opponents from doing so.
In one particular round, Chu hit the clicker repeatedly on a “sports” question – a subject that he knows nothing about. The question was in "Double Jeopardy," and Chu wagered only $5 simply to prevent his opponents from answering the question.
A Jeopardy Hero
Chu also deploys another strategy that is raising eyebrows. When entering final Jeopardy, the leader typically tries to place a wager that assures victory even if another contestant answers correctly. Chu deviates from this common tactic by intentionally playing for the tie.
During "Final Jeopardy," he wagers an amount that would tie him with the second leading contestant if that contestant were to wager all of his or her money. A tie leads to both contestants advancing to the next round and significantly more money for the would-be loser.
Although Chu singlehandedly assured his opponent Carolyn Collins advancement via tie and thousands in cash, his actions are not altruistic. Chu is deploying game theory. In short, Chu raises his chances from 50 percent to 75 percent of advancing by going for the tie. He advances no matter what if he wins (via tie if both contestants win), and still advances if both he and the opponent lose.
Chu will return to defend his title on February 24 after Jeopardy completes its past winners tournament. Winning one more round will make Chu eligible for the "Tournament of Champions," where it will be interesting to see his antics up against the best of the best.
Chu isn’t the first to game the game. Here are some other controversial game show contestants:
Michael Larson: Press Your Luck, 1984
Michael Larson, a part-time ice cream truck driver, discovered a fatal flaw in the game Press Your Luck. After watching marathons of the show during his spare time, Larson discovered that the show’s game board wasn’t “randomized” as advertised. It was a repeated sequence of five different game boards.
After making such an incredible discovery, Larson knew which tiles on the board were worth money and which would bankrupt him. He kept winning until he wound up with $110,237.
Terry Kniess: The Price is Right, 2008
Terry Kniess guessed that his showcase, which included a karaoke machine, a billiards table, and a 17-foot camper, was worth $23,743. His “guess” was correct to the exact dollar, which hadn’t happened "since 1972 or 1973" according to Drew Carey.
The public later discovered that Kniess had been watching a lot of The Price is Right reruns and realized that many of the same prizes were recycled over and over, while maintaining the same price. When he finally got his chance to win, Kniess was prepared. He knew the general prices in the thousands and chose 743 because it was his PIN. All it took was a little addition and a lucky guess for him to take home the showcase.
Charles Van Doren: Twenty One, 1956
Twenty One was an immensely popular game show in America during the late 1950s. To the misfortune of the show’s producers, the show was a complete bust during its initial airing. To boost ratings, these producers decided to “spruce it up” a bit.
The show went from an honest quiz game show to a staged game of dishonesty. The show hired actors with very specific personalities who knew the answers in advance. One of them was Charles Van Doren, who “won” nearly $140,000 dollars – a boatload of money in 1956. Van Doren’s run drew ratings, but the game was eventually exposed as a scam.