Hello and welcome back to my discussion with quiz champion Yogesh Raut. At the end of last week’s instalment of the interview, Yogesh had just revealed that he was offended by one of the questions I asked him…
YR: Now there was one question you asked, where you said, “what was your intention in making the comments you did?” And I read that over 15-20 times. I read it over to friends, I read it over to multiple therapists. And I kept trying to find a way that that question was not offensive.
SH: Oh, I’m sorry! Goodness me, I’m really sorry.
YR: And I couldn’t.
SH: Oh goodness, okay. Well, let’s talk about that. I’m so sorry.
YR: I mean, first of all, it’s interesting that in the parts of my television appearances that people found so troubling, and were called so offensive and got so much blow-back, people acted as though I had agentically chosen the subject of those contestant interviews. And I hadn’t. I did not choose to talk about my having gone to a rival high school from James Holzhauer. I mean, when I applied to be on the show, I put that on the sheet, for very obvious reasons, right? There are far more people applying to be on Jeopardy – and far more people qualified to be on Jeopardy – than will ever get on the show. The only chance you have of getting there is to stand out in some way, to grab the the casting people’s attention. And I thought I have these stories that may very well end up grabbing their attention. And so not putting them on my application would just be shooting myself in the foot, it would be lessening my chances of getting on. Again, this is the only way I have of getting any financial recompense for the work, the decades of toil and sweat I put in. And in other domains, like pub quizzing, I not only don’t get rewarded for my hard work and excellent performance – I get punished for it.
Jeopardy is an imperfect opportunity. It’s not a very meritocratic game. I have enough of a background in psychometrics that I could explain why, but I shouldn’t have to. It’s pretty commonsensical that there’s so much variance and randomness and luck involved.
But nonetheless, it’s the best opportunity there is for me. So yes, I’m going to say what I have to say. I actually know people who are Tournament of Champions winners who have very explicitly said, “Lie on your application”. I didn’t want to lie, so I didn’t. I told the truth. But I chose the things that felt relevant to them. And of those things that were on there, on the day of the taping they told the producer who was on the stage which one of these things would be the thing that I would talk about in my interview. So I did not select them. And I think so much of the people’s attempts to convince me that I had done something wrong were based on the premise that I had made a choice to “boast” or “brag”… which honestly, if I wanted to boast or brag, I had 10 million other things I could have boasted or bragged about than winning a state championship in high school.
SH: But it’s a good story, and it’s an appropriate story for them and their show.
YR: Right. That is right.
SH: And as you say, it increased your chances of getting on. That’s smart to do that.
YR: Right. And that’s why I have repeatedly not blamed Jeopardy, even though those choices they made exposed me to a lot of blowback. I don’t blame them, because I don’t think those were necessarily irrational choices or problematic choices. Right? They had no way of knowing that people would interpret them in the, frankly, wildly irrational way that they did. They wanted something that they could build up for ratings. And obviously I was going to play along because it was a TV show. They brought me on; I was their guest. It was my job to perform for them.
And I can talk about those specific comments. I can talk about the fact that in August 2021, there was an article on Defector about OQL: Online Quiz League. And in that article, there is a quote from Troy Meyer, who ended up taping the same week I lost, he taped a few days after that. One of the few people in America who has an even more solid claim that I do to being the best quizzer in the country, among the best in the world. But in this August 2021 story, he is quoted as saying, “You remember James Holzhauer, how dominant he was?”, says Troy Meyer, the top individual performing in OQL USA Season Two, four-time Learned League Champion, and recipient of multiple Jeopardy snubs. “I know at least 10 people who are better than him.”
Now compared to that, my statement that way back in high school, I was on a team that beat his team – and many other teams – for the state championship comes off as incredibly mild.
SH: Yeah, I don’t think it’s a problem, I just think it’s an interesting detail.
YR: I don’t think it was a problem. I don’t think what Troy said is a problem, either. I think Troy was just saying it’s widely accepted that Jeopardy isn’t the measure of who the best quizzers in the country are.
SH: If anything, it’s interesting and eye-opening for their viewers, I would have thought.
YR: I would have thought, yes. I don’t think that Troy’s comment is remotely problematic. I don’t think he should be harassed or attacked for it. But then, I also don’t think that anyone should think that my comment is problematic or should harass or attack me for it. The thing is, though, that I don’t see how you could fairly consider my comment to be any more offensive than his.
SH: No, neither do I.
YR: Right, which suggests that there is a reason that I’m the one being targeted and a white man who says the same things is not.
SH: Right. Did he say that on the show?
YR: No, he said that in an online interview.
YR: And the people who attack me, right, if you show that to them, will they be just as outraged on James Holzhauer’s behalf? And I think also a lot of what was said about me was premised on the notion that my comments indicated that I had some psychological disorder. I was repeatedly called “unhinged”, I was called “narcissistic”, “arrogant”, and so on. And yet in this article on Defector, the guy who wrote it, Shane Ryan, lists four people who are strong candidates for being the best quizzers in the country. He mentions Troy, who at the time had never been on Jeopardy. He mentioned Victoria Groce, who, a while ago, had a run of a few games, but nothing spectacular. He mentioned Steve Perry, who spent decades trying to get on Jeopardy and was never accepted. He mentioned Scott Blish, who lost his first Jeopardy game and then couldn’t play anymore.
They are all people who have a valid claim to being the best in the country and all people whose Jeopardy careers were not particularly spectacular. And so he’s basically made a very strong underlying claim that Jeopardy is not the measure of who the best quizzers are. And when he writes that, no one calls him unhinged. No one suggests that he is crazy for thinking that or that he is a sore loser who’s acting out of childish resentment, etc, etc.
SH: How much of a difference does it make that his comments are in a very different forum to yours? And yours got more eyeballs on them? And, also eyeballs of Jeopardy viewers… perhaps more than his comments did on that forum?
YR: Well, you can ask hypothetically what would happen if the same people were exposed to his comments, but then you can also ask, considering all the media attention that was given to my comments, isn’t it the job of reporters to find to the statements like that? And isn’t it their job to contextualise my comments and to point out that I am not the only one saying these things? That they are widely accepted within a community of people who are qualified to have those opinions?
SH: If they were a good journalist? Yeah.
YR: Yeah. I mean, that is the thing. None of what I had to say really was premised on me as a person, but everyone chose to make it about me as a person. And I was very clear about the conversation that needs to happen and why it needs to happen. And yet, that wasn’t the conversation that ended up happening. And I don’t know that I can really take any blame for that. Because I was pretty clear.
SH: Yeah, absolutely.
YR: I started off by pointing out that when I was in a context where I was not really in charge of what I was saying, people nonetheless attributed it to me as though I had been the one to make that choice. But then the reverse happened. When I had my own platform when I made my own social media posts, people refused to accept my own explanations for why I said what I said.
I was super, super clear. I expressed – honestly, I mean, in my opinion, at least as eloquently as I’ve ever expressed anything in my life – I expressed why I was saying what I was saying and why it was important. I talked about the need to not have the only voices in the room be those that come from management and people handpicked by management. I talked about how anti-meritocratic systems are inherently ones that are exclusionary toward women and people of colour. Because in a meritocratic system, you have protection from the blowback from what you are saying as long as you can continue to perform, but when the field is not meritocratic, then people’s subjective opinions about you determine whether or not you get to participate, and that will always work against people who critique the system.
And I very explicitly talked about many things: the gossip problem in the quizzing community, the way in which people of colour’s narratives are taken away from them through gossip, the way in which their personal experiences are rewritten to victim-blame them for racist exclusion. I talked about how the fact that I was subjected to racist exclusion (as I described earlier in this interview) got completely lost in the transmission because it was all about, “What do you think about him? Are his comments unhinged or not?” And if anything, they gave protection to the people who harmed me, right? Because my actual behaviour in pub quizzes was quiet, meek, innocent. But once people got it in their head that I was some sort of brash, unhinged, braggart narcissist or so on, they just decided, “Oh, well, it must have been justified to exclude him.” And that example of racist exclusion I gave you was not the only one. But for all of them, people just said, “Oh, it must be justified. And the fact that he’s attributing it to racism? Well, now we have another person of colour who plays the race card because he doesn’t want to take responsibility for his own actions.”
And the last thing I said (and I saved it for last because it was the most important) was, What are we going to tell the next generation of quizzers? If we continue to have it set up so that the greatest incentive is to go on Jeopardy and be a Jeopardy champion, where you’re much more incentivized to practice your hand/eye coordination, so you can buzz in at the right time, than to learn about the world in as great a breadth and depth as possible, what does that mean? Right? Because that isn’t what little children who have that hungry-mindedness – when we spot them, none of them are burning with an ambition to match up the time they press the buzzer with a row of lights that’s a few feet away from them. That isn’t what they want to do. Right? What they want to do is they want to know everything that there is to know –
SH: And improve themselves.
YR: Yes! And the thing is that right now, I cannot honestly encourage them to keep doing that, to learn as much as possible to surpass the generation before them. In every sport, we expect the next generation to keep getting better – to get better at playing than the one before that. Only in quizzing do we punish the people who are at the top specifically because they are trying. We shame them, we caricature them… And then if they are people of colour, we lie about them to exclude them. And regardless, though, we aren’t rewarding them the way we would reward the people who are the best at anything else, because we’re too busy rewarding people who went on a reality show, right?
I cannot look the next generation in the eye and tell them, “Yes, keep going the way you’re going. Learn even more than I did. Let me share all my knowledge with you, and then you take that and you go even further with it.” I cannot in good conscience tell them any of that, because I know that they’ll be punished for it the way that I was punished for it, especially if they’re a woman or a person of colour. I can only tell them “Look, if you want to get the most out of what you know, then at the point where people start to be threatened by your knowledge, stop learning. Kill that light inside of yourself, kill your ambition. And instead just ask yourself, ‘What can I do so that one day a casting director who last week was casting Big Brother will now look at me and say, ‘Oh, this person is pretty wacky, but not so wacky they’ll alienate our audience’.'”
SH: Well, that’s a pretty bleak picture, isn’t it?
YR: Am I the one painting the picture? Or am I just describing it?
And that’s where we’ll leave our chat for today. We’ll see you back here next Tuesday for the next instalment, but until then, a quick reminder that you can find Yogesh’s blog The Wronger Box right HERE, and his podcast Recreational Thinking is right HERE.
See you next week!Tweet