I noticed that many of my fellow game show fans were more than a bit distracted last night, and I learned exactly how important and crucial an event called The Royal Rumble is to them. You probably know much more about it, which was described to me as a kickoff event involving 30 challengers jockeying for position to be in upcoming WWE wrestling matches for the coming year, than I do, and more than likely, nowhere near as much as my fellow fans do. And I’m pretty sure Michael Davies does, too.
Davies, the executive producer of JEOPARDY! who redefined the bar of success for prime time game shows two decades when he successfully imported the British hit WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE, has not only been a necessary stabilizing force for the show after the triple whammy of longtime host Alex Trebek’s death, the pandemic and the scandal and poor executive decisions that eventually took down former showrunner and (very briefly) host Mike Richards, he has taken the show to new heights, invigorating the nearly 60-year-old series with new wrinkles such as expanded daily statistics, a weekly behind the scenes podcast which he co-hosts, and a slew of new tournaments and spin-offs that will give more players another chance to compete and, ultimately, tap into whatever emotions they provoked in viewers with their debuts. Heroes, such as the brilliant James Holzhauer and the trailblazing Amy Schneider, have been celebrated. Former champions like Buzzy Cohen have been incorporated into the show’s long-term plans with roles on the podcast and even guest host roles, much like how all-time great Ken Jennings was elevated to the show’s hosting role after Trebek’s passing. Indeed, Davies, who straddles the lines between sports (he’d likely say “sport”) fan and entertainment producer, has acknowledged that incorporating the kind of storylines integral to wrestling can very much be worked into JEOPARDY!. And there, villains are as integral to stickiness as heroes.
Well, earlier this month, the show apparently found one such villian. Yogesh Raut, a self-described trivia champion whose past accomplishments, in his own words, included that he finished in the Top 10 of the 2022 LearnedLeague Rundle Championship and won the Quizzing World Cup, took to social media to vent his feelings about the show, the format, and what he perceived to be a system that prevented him from being more of the kind of champion that his rival Holzhauer or emcee Jennings became. As Brooke Steinberg of The New York Post reported:
Raut, a 38-year-old from Vancouver, Washington, first appeared on the game show on Jan. 11, going on to win three games before contestant Katie Palumbo broke his streak.
He left the show with a check for $94,403, but posted multiple, lengthy rants to Facebook knocking America’s love for “Jeopardy!”
He emphasized and clarified that this post was not meant to be an attack on Connor (Sears) and Andrew (Whatley) — the contestants he beat.
“This is also not an insult to ‘Jeopardy!’ which is a TV show designed for entertainment, and a reasonably good one,” he wrote. “It is entertaining to watch but it bears the same relationship to real quizzing that ‘Holey Moley’ does to golf.”
The champ compared his win on the game show to a hypothetical chess grandmaster winning top tournaments but is only famous for beating low-ranked players in “a glorified reality show.”
This so-called “non-standard bughouse version of chess,” according to Raut, would merely be “a derivative game designed to introduce high levels of variance that constantly threaten to swamp out differences in skill level, on a glorified reality show.”
The fact that actual quizzing continues to be a fringe subculture in the shadows is what allowed racists, misogynists and outright sexual harassers to thrive in collegiate quizbowl for so long. It’s the reason unapologetic bigots remain in positions of high power at major pub quiz companies,” Raut continued.
“This also shouldn’t be controversial to say,” he added in another post, “but even I was surprised at the depths of racism exposed by my mere presence on TV.”
He claimed that the show is detrimental to women and people of color who want to be treated as equals to white men, calling out “people who make no effort to learn about my experiences blithely default to an ‘Angry Brown Man with chip on shoulder’ label.”
“‘Jeopardy!’ is a fun TV show but putting it on a pedestal is an objectively bad thing. It’s bad for the future of quizzing,” he said. “It is fundamentally incompatible with incentivizing the next generation of quizzers to excel, and it is fundamentally incompatible with true social justice.”
“Toxic White entitlement, like toxic male entitlement, is real, is genuinely harmful, and is not going anywhere,” he continued. “There’s been a lot of back-patting in the quizzing community recently, talk of how we’re undergoing a ‘reckoning.’ I see no reckoning.”
Holey Moley indeed.
Needless to say, more than a few JEOPARDY! viewers, and even a few former champions, didn’t take these observations in stride, The vitriol that was tweeted in the wake of Raut’s rants rivaled any political or culture war discourse we’ve seen in the Musk era. A few summative samples: