Who is Arthur Chu?
I’m not a big gameshow fan. So, most of the time, when my brother settles down to Jeopardy! after dinner, I don’t pay much attention. (Besides, Jeopardy! has always appeared to me as AP History meets Family Feud, and any show my parents endorse is instantly suspect of being “educational”.) But I do remember glancing at the TV last year after a particular raucous round of cheering from the living room.
On the screen was a pudgy, bespectacled Chinese man bearing a disconcertingly smug grin on his face.
Although I had yet to realize it back in March 2014, this was my first encounter of Arthur Chu, Jeopardy!’s 3rd highest-grossing season contestant of all times. At the end of his 12-show stint, Chu took home $300,000, and a whole lot of ire from an outraged gameshow community.
It turns out my negative first impression of him was not unique. Infamous for his aggressive gameplay, Chu has incurred both laud and lambast from viewers near and far. His use of the “Forrest Bounce” strategy entails ricocheting randomly around the board to increase the chance of daily doubles (considered unsportsmanlike), and his breakneck pace led him to interrupt host Alex Trebek on multiple occasions. Online forums labeled him arrogant, creepy, even “Jeopardy! Villain” and hosted #GoodbyeGook campaigns to see him gone.
Americans shunned Chu for turning a gentleman’s sport upside down, and perhaps, on a subconscious level, for disrupting fixed expectations of the model minority.
At first glance, Arthur seems to fulfill many stereotypes of the Chinese American. The son of immigrants, he used his smarts to attain the “American Dream,” and in many ways his rocketing success is reminiscent of basketball phenomenon Jeremy Lin’s. Both Lin and Chu were raised in Taiwanese Evangelical Christian homes, but the difference ends there. A calculating, self-confident, at times even caustic competitor, Arthur Chu embodies nothing of the humility and modesty so feted during Linsanity. In fact, Chu if anything figures best as the anti-hero of the model minority. In a teaser for the upcoming film which explores his epic year, the NY native relates, “There was a time when I didn’t want to be associated with my family. There was this illusion that I could be a blank slate… no race, no history.”
As it turns out, the much-loathed Jeopardy! player does display an unconventional brand of charisma. Since Jeopardy!, Chu has capitalized on his 15-minutes of gameshow notoriety to revolutionize nerd culture. He has become an authority figure on internet culture, tackling issues from racism and bigotry to misogyny in the gamer world. His blog posts for The Daily Beast have hit millions of views, and more importantly, sparked nationwide conversations and real change.
Real change has meant inner transformation too. Arthur Chu has since reconciled with his roots, and his upcoming documentary Who is Arthur Chu? touches in part on his journey from a Chinese American in denial to an unconventional role model for the model minority. “It all goes back to what my father told me, ‘No matter how hard you try, you’ll always be Chinese, even if you hate being Chinese… You’ll only be happy if you learn to accept that.’ And a large part of this year  was me learning to accept that.”