The Foolishness of The Jeopardy Troll
I Reluctantly Write This Article to Give The Latest Example of How Much Social Media is Wrecking The Things We Love (But You Knew That Already)
I didn’t plan to write this particular article. At first, I just wanted to look at Season 39 of Jeopardy 100 games in and celebrate the accomplishments of Troy Meyer, who Friday became the most recent contestant to qualify for the Tournament of Champions. Unfortunately, some of the things I have read about him on social media as well as several other things I have read about some of the super-champions in the past two years have forced my hand. So I’ll postpone my celebration until the halfway point of the season (which is in three weeks’ time) and talk about the unfortunate collision between one of my favorite things in the world and something that I think the world could only benefit if it were just to disappear from the face of the earth.
Now to be clear, I’ve never liked social media. I have spent the better part of a decade saying that Twitter was the ruination of mankind, have no use for Instagram or Snapchat, and while I will occasionally post on Facebook to promote some of my own columns or communicate with the occasional friend, I have never extensively used and have been wary of it well before the recent problems with have become front and center. If Twitter were to go bankrupt, I’d lead a parade. If Facebook were to be dissolved by Congress, I’d be irked…for about five minutes. I find no redeeming values in any social media construct that has been developed in this century, well aware of the fact I’m using to post links to this column.
So the fact that there has been backlash against Jeopardy winners on social media this week is not the final straw, or even close to it. Nor am I unaware of the crisis of internet bullying and how savage it can be or entirely shocked that is among Jeopardy. But the last two weeks have revealed the fundamental stupidity and vapidity of those who choose to spend their time ragging on Jeopardy champions.
In a column last week, I wrote a very detailed article about Jeopardy’s troubled history with minority contestants over the show’s history. I had been planning to write this article for at least a year, but it was triggered by commentary I had heard by a recent Jeopardy champion Yogesh Raut, who had posted about the show’s treatment of them. To be clear, I wrote that article before I read the full extent of his commentary — and realized just how utterly misguided and contemptuous Raut was of the show he had just won over $93,000 on in three days. In it, he berated those who thought Jeopardy was the be-all and end-all of quiz shows, berated the fans who accused him of what he considered hostile behavior, and in the most bizarre part of it, critiqued some of the most valued members of the Jeopardy community, including Amy Schneider and Claire McNeer, who had written the original articles that led to Matt Richards being fired by the show in 2021. The latter’s writing he referred to as ‘anodyne.’
Now I do understand and even sympathize why so many among the Jeopardy community — including James Holzhauer — took to social media to condemn Raut; it’s hard not to look at his attitude as hypocritical. And as a fan of the show, I read enough of his blog to see so much of it as that of a sore loser (I kept asking myself if he hated the show so much why he tried out for it in the first place). Indeed, I admire the show’s tolerance for Raut by saying that they did not take the criticism of Raut personally and would be happy to welcome him back for a Tournament of Champions. So in this case, there is justification. But when I read commentary on Troy Beyer this weekend, I began to question a lot of what I’d seen.
Troy, for the record, was a good champion. He was charming, funny, and great to watch. By the comparison of so many recent champions, his run was ‘ordinary’ — he ‘only’ won six games and over $210,000 in them, which is a very good record for any player. Some fans actually seemed amused by his resemblance to Bill Hader, which I imagine Hader would take it good sport. There was nothing to dislike about Troy — you’d think. Then on Saturday, I found out a certain circle of fans were irritated by something that Troy did. What made them so angry?
Troy said ‘Please’ far too often when he made his selections on the board.
There’s so much to unpack here. Start with the fact that for thirty years, I’ve seen at least a third of Jeopardy champions say please when they selected clues on the board. It’s politeness. Then there’s the obvious question: how would like them to ask for clues? The way a character in a Mamet play or Tarantino film would? Hell, would you like them to scream when they get the clue wrong and demand money? Jeopardy contestants, for the record, are given one of the strictest sets of rules as to how to behave on set when they play. Basic politeness has been one of the cornerstones of this.
And of course, there’s the fact that I’m fairly sure that most of these whiners were among the ones who complained that Raut was too arrogant when he had his wins on Jeopardy. Sadly, this part of a pattern that I’ve commented on occasionally but haven’t wanted to dwell on the last few years. However, since they’ve forced my hand…
Ever since the super-champion reign began, there has been a vocal minority who has the habits of variations of complaining of the aspects of so many of the quirks of their performances. When Matt Amodio was in the middle of his run, a lot of people were ‘annoyed’ he began every response with ‘What is…” instead of occasionally saying ‘Who?” Sadly that was the most polite kind of bullying that has happened to so many players. Amy Schneider was attacked by some for her sexuality. Mattea Roach received harsh comments because of her appearance. Ray LaLonde, who has a back condition that makes standing for long periods difficult, was nitpicked by those who found the fact he would sway behind the podium ‘hard to watch.’
Now I have an understanding of so much internet bullying, which in this case really doesn’t differ that much from the stuff we grew up with. It is a variation of the guy we meet in grade school or high school who beats up the kid with glasses for lunch money, who demands to cheat off the person sitting next to him in an algebra quiz, who cuts class whenever he can and think school is a waste of time. We’ve all known these kinds of people and we all know that they don’t mature when they grow up and these days, social media can turn them into celebrities. What baffles me in this particular case is why these kinds of bullies are even watching Jeopardy as you’d think that by their very nature, this is the kind of show they wouldn’t watch on principle.
Maybe it’s just a variation of all the other kinds of bullying that goes online. These bullies are jealous of these people for making money for being smart, and because they know very well berating them for their accomplishments would get them nowhere, they yell at them for being funny looking or too unpleasant or too polite or anything else they see as a weak spot. Or maybe it’s just the attitude that so many people have towards celebrities in general: doing well on Jeopardy does make you famous for a while, and in that sense, they feel no less guilt in doing so than any other movie star or music sensation or anyone else. (Though to be clear, if they wanted to berate actual celebrities for being idiots, Celebrity Jeopardy is right there for them to watch. And I’d probably be leading the charge there, though I might use nicer words.) Hell, maybe there just the kind of people who like to dump on anything that’s popular or has been around for a long time. All of these are plausible explanations.
Now neither the show nor the champions need me to protect them from this kind of attitude. Jeopardy continues to enjoy its highest ratings in years and I know the history of the show well enough to know that these champions don’t mind these kinds of attacks, mostly because they are a percentage point of a percentage point of the people who watch the show. The fans will always love Jeopardy champions. We might love some of them more than others, but everybody has favorites in any fandom, and it doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate the accomplishments of all of them. If Jeopardy was a different kind of show, it might use the trolling that these fans give it to market so many of their champions, casting them as heroes versus villains. But they and the viewer know there are no bad Jeopardy champions or good ones (not even Yogesh Raut) and people will tune in the Tournament of Champions because they want to see their favorite players return. And the champions know it too — hell, my guess is when Troy comes back he’ll probably joke about both looking like Bill Hader and his penchant for saying ‘Please’.
To be clear, my feelings about social media and these kinds of trolls are still no different. But I believe in Voltaire’s famous statement, which every Jeopardy contestant has memorized but which I doubt any of these trolls know of, much less know who Voltaire is. “I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” I might not go so far to that extreme, but I agree with the sentiment. I wish you’d find another, more worthy show to cast your venom on, but that is your right.
So go ahead, Jeopardy trolls. Do your worst. Say yesterday’s champion is too aggressive and the next is too meek. Say that one player got cheated of a win and that another is beyond stupid for not knowing something that you know. Berate one player for this and cheer another for the same thing. The champions don’t care, the show doesn’t care, the fans don’t care. All of them are concentrating on Jeopardy to watch people do what they do best. I can’t blame you for wanting to do what you apparently do best — which in this case is yet another example of why social media is the bane of our existence.