The Raut Is On

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:

John Cullen
RIP to Yogesh, possibly the worst anecdotalist in Jeopardy history. He was on the show 4 days and his anecdotes were: I beat James at quizzing in high school I was the “only carbon-based life form” to beat Brad and Ken I tried to meet my Jeopardy hero but she recognized me first
Bill Hanstock
personally, if i won one hundred thousand dollars on a game show i would just shut the fuck up and enjoy my money

Well I am a Jeopardy! champ, and anytime that comes up people get SO excited, they ask me about Alex Trebek or how much I won, they reminisce about watching it with a family member…I cannot imagine being this sour about something that brings so much joy.
It’s a WWE-like storyline.  Raut has emerged in many circles as an ungrateful elitist, and a newly rich one at that.  As THE CHASE’s British uberchaser Mark Labbett said in another game show-related podcast, TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF, quiz competitions are rarely played for significant prizes, but much more for the glory.  Shows like JEOPARDY!, with their massive cash prizes and yes, those damn populist rules, are different, and need to be ackbowledged as such.
I can almost identify with Raut’s level of anger and bitterness, given what he appears to think of himself.  If that’s indeed how he feels, that’s almost tragic, especially since he probably made in three days close to what he makes in a year.  But ironically, that very quality has all but telegraphed that Davies fully intends to bring him back somehow, some way, at some point, more than likely in a higher-profile tournament where his fame (infamy?) will grow.  And, much like the more successful champions of the past, somehow he will at least have the opportunity to become a lot richer in the process.
And based upon other news of the past week, there will be ample enough time and opportunity for Raut to become more ingrained in the show’s, and perhaps America’s quizzing, culture.  On the heels of a week where it delivered a 5.8 rating to rank as the top-rated syndicated show yet again–ratings far larger than any other entertainment series in prime time–it was renewed for five more seasons by the ABC-owned stations.  And details for a spring prime time tournament involving JEOPARDY! Masters for ABC prime time were announced.  Yep, JEOPARDY!’s gonna be around for quite a bit longer.  And, more than likely, so will Michael Davies.
Which, I guess, should give all of us who shave our heads some greater degree of hope.
Some unsolicited advice for Mr. Raut:  Given your charming looks, you might want to consider a similar makeover.  You’re clearly the villain now, and frankly you’d look more like one if you did.
And, Good G-d, if you truly believe that you are a victim of racial profiling, you might want to look in the mirror and consider what you’ve accused so many other unassuming–and qualified–people of.  Whatever castigation you are receiving, it’s far more because of what you choose to express and how than what you did or didn’t know on a gosh-darn game show.  Not a reality show, Mr. Raut.  Reality shows don’t award huge cash prizes for knowing facts.
But they do draw viewers.  And they do make tons of money.  Even more than you’ve made, and will likely again thanks to the foresight of someone like Davies who sees value in your sadly uninformed and sheltered views.
Let’s face it, you’re being talked about.  Your bank account is a lot better than many others these days.  And we’re probably gonna get a chance to boo you again, unless, of course, you do win a few of these “reality show” competitions, in which case, we’ll cheer, probably more enthusiastically than you did for Cathy.
Hey, Michael, maybe you can take Raut and 29 of his former foes and merely put them into a Royal Rumble-like environment?   Make it an event, live in prime time, to qualify for one of those million dollar tournaments?
I know I’ll watch.  And I’m even surer a lot of game show fans will, too.  After all, they’re on to the overlap between the genres more than I am.
But, thanks to them, I’m a bit more informed than I was.  Thanks, guys.  And now back to our late local news…
Until next time…


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