This is an excerpt from Please Like Me, BuzzFeed News’ newsletter about influencers and internet culture. You can sign up here. In our column, Niche Drama, we discuss online community micro dramas.
A three-time Jeopardy winner who went viral for criticizing the beloved show said the backlash to his posts misses the real reason he has beef with it.
“I have a master’s degree in film and television studies. I know how a television show works. It’s a business,” Yogesh Raut, a blogger, podcaster, and quizzing expert, told BuzzFeed News. “But … Jeopardy is not good for quizzing.”
The 38-year-old Washington resident calls himself a member of the quizzing community — he prefers not to use the word “trivia,” as it “diminishes the value of what we care about by making it seem ‘trivial.’” The quizzing community is made up of various tournaments in different formats, all of which “quiz” people on their general knowledge. Jeopardy is the most famous quiz show, but Raut has pointed out that it’s not a “meritocracy” equivalent to the Olympics.
“You only have to be smart enough to pass their written test, then it doesn’t matter how good at knowing things you are,” he told BuzzFeed News. “It matters how telegenic you are.”
Raut emerged as the winner of three Jeopardy episodes and $96,403 that aired from Jan. 11 to Jan. 16. After that first episode aired, he criticized the show (which he admitted was “reasonably entertaining”) in a Facebook post for not rewarding true talent and for being "fundamentally incompatible with true social justice."
That’s the point Raut says people are missing when they get angry that he criticized Jeopardy — he thinks it’s a great show, just not as important as everyone thinks it is. “'Jeopardy!' is not the problem; its centrality to American society is. There will never be a healthy quizzing culture in this country until we learn to stop pretending that 'Jeopardy!' is important,” he wrote. “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.”
Since sharing that post and completing his run on TV, Raut has faced so much negativity from fans that he had to unfollow Jeopardy on Facebook, he told BuzzFeed News. When the game show’s official page shared a clip of Raut’s debut, commenters ridiculed him for appearing to be an “arrogant, self-absorbed sore loser” and “smug,” among other things.
“He’s good and knows it. Don’t like him,” one person wrote. “Can't stand this man's arrogance and won't be watching till he has lost and is no longer on,” another said.
Raut told BuzzFeed News he received the same kinds of comments in other Facebook groups, on his own Facebook posts, and on Reddit. In the first moments of his interview with us, Raut expressed concern that he was coming across as egotistical by sharing that he has three different master's degrees in three different fields.
He told BuzzFeed News that his so-called arrogant demeanor was his response to the instructions he received backstage to “move the show along” and implied in a Facebook post that comments reducing his behavior to arrogance are racist.
“Racism doesn't always look like a tiki torch held aloft or a swastika on an armband. Sometimes it looks like a double standard in defining ‘arrogance’ or other undesirable qualities,” he wrote. “Sometimes it looks like projecting ‘aggressiveness’ into neutral behavior.”
Raut said his love for quizzing began when he was a child. His parents, who moved from India to New York City before he was born, praised him for memorizing and reciting facts like the states and their capitals.
“I think subconsciously, my father encouraged it because felt like he needed to show everyone what a good American his son was,” he said.
The Jeopardy clip from the show’s official Facebook page featured Raut quickly answering a question about the Statue of Liberty, which he referred to by its official name, “Liberty Enlightening the World.” Host Ken Jennings jokingly called him a “show off,” a phrase that commenters repeated.
“I don’t know why people were so shocked that I knew the name of the most popular statue in the city I was born in,” he said. “Why does that make me, as they said, ‘the worst kind of smart person?’”
In response to commenters calling him a bad sport for speaking out against Jeopardy after losing a game, Raut told BuzzFeed News he just wanted to use his “one-and-only-chance” to start a conversation.
In one of his Facebook posts, Raut outlined the issues the quizzing community needs to address:
• Why rewards, recognition, and platforms in quizzing are distributed so anti-meritocratically, and what can be done about that
• Why game shows that don't reward quizzing ability hold so much power
• Whether the lack of visibility of real quizzing has anything to do with the immense prevalence of racist and misogynist men in positions of power and the culture of silence around abuse
• Why the US is the only country that refers to quizzing as "trivia," and about why this culture shows so much contempt toward knowledge that doesn't directly feed capitalist machines
• Why negative stereotypes about quizzers, as well as pseudoscience that "others" them, continue to abound
• How white people ignore and passively accept these stereotypes and pseudoscience because the harm they do is borne primarily by women and people of color
• Why complaints about racist exclusion and refusal of accommodation are dismissed as "literally trivial" just because they happen in the quizzing world, as though it's obvious that "trivia" is more important than racial equity
To clarify, Raut didn’t actually compare himself to Muhammad Ali, as Greenwell's tweet suggests — he listed the boxer among other nonwhite activists who spoke out against the powerful.
James Holzhauer, the third highest-earning Jeopardy contestant of all time, tweeted on Jan. 24 in response to an article about Raut that “anyone who’s ever used social media to criticize Jeopardy or its producers should get a lifetime ban from the show.” He did not respond to a request for comment from BuzzFeed News.
Raut isn’t worried about a lifetime ban from Jeopardy, though. He repeatedly brought up a missive he wrote for future generations interested in quizzers, which we’ll share in full:
We have to look the next generation of quizzers in the eyes and tell them, "I know you want to learn everything that there is to know. But, for your own sake, please don't. It will only get you labeled a 'know-it-all.' You will be told that you're a freak, a product of genetic quirks rather than hard work and shining passion, or else a personality-less robot, and that label will be used to justify excluding you and marginalizing your voice. So, for your own good, kill the light that burns inside you. Extinguish your love of learning. Instead, learn just enough to not seem threatening, and devote the rest of your energy to cultivating a hobby that someday a casting director will deem 'wacky, but not too wacky.'"