My EXCLUSIVE interview with quiz champion Yogesh Raut – Part 8

Yogesh Raut

Hello and welcome back.

We finished last week’s instalment of my interview with Yogesh discussing the possibility of him returning to Jeopardy! for any potential future Tournaments of Champions…


YR: Honestly, if it were just like a regular season where my numbers didn’t qualify me for the Tournament of Champions, so I never come back, so be it. I never believed that this was going to be something where I was going to be entitled to some kind of outcome. I knew it could very easily happen that I lose my first game – and I almost did – and I was entirely prepared for that. Everything after that, I was like, “Well, this is just gravy. This is just good luck until it’s no longer good luck”. But it is interesting to say that I’m controversial for supposedly “blasting the show”. Because I repeatedly said that I was treated perfectly fine on Jeopardy. There was definitely another major American game show where I passed the audition, I was flown to Los Angeles during the pandemic, quarantined for two full days, and then … treated in a manner that indicated that the people running the show did not understand how to handle people… and then not even allowed to play on it! 

And compared to that experience, Jeopardy was pretty nice. Jeopardy has been going on for a long time. The modern version of it premiered the year I was born. It literally has been going on for as long as I’ve been alive. And so they have it down to an assembly line. 

SH: Of course. 

YR: Yeah. Right. You say “Of course”, but as I discovered, other shows are not nearly as professional. 

SH: Oh, really? Okay. 

YR: Other shows are run by people who really don’t know what they’re doing. But by comparison, Jeopardy was just fine. It wasn’t a party or anything like that. It was a day you came in, they put you through your paces and then you left. And I have no complaints about that. I never complained about the show. I never complained about the content of the show, about the way the show is made, even stuff that maybe I have a legitimate complaint about, like their complete failure to police their Facebook page and to allow all sorts of hateful and bigoted comments. I didn’t even really talk about that. I’ve just said that it’s a TV show and it should just be treated like a regular TV show. 

But I think if TV Insider says this contestant was controversial because he said that a TV show was just a TV show and that racism is bad, it would raise questions.

SH: Outrageous! How dare you call a TV show a TV show?!?

YR: Right. And it would raise questions about why TV Insider and their audience consider those statements controversial. Questions whose answers are obvious (i.e., racism), but which no one really wants to say. So instead they put words in my mouth; they claim I “trash-talked” Jeopardy after I was on and I was like, “What? No, I’m not even going to dignify that with a response.” That’s so obviously not what happened. But it’s a story that “makes sense” because they want to portray the people who are angry at me as though they have some genuine reason for doing so. 

SH: No, it’s just stoking division and stoking an argument which so much of modern media is all about; “Quick, let’s get people to hate each other!” We’ve spoken about the podcast and we’ve spoken about the blog that you do… What else is in the future for you? What’s next? 

YR: Yeah, we talked about that, and another thing you asked was “Why quizzing?” That is a loaded question because quizzing is a competitive thing. 

SH: Yes, we touched on that before – about the love of learning and curiosity. But quizzing is a construct that just happens to be competitive. And while it may not be the ideal way to celebrate that knowledge, it’s the best thing we’ve got at the moment. 

YR: Right. Which is in part why I’m creating my podcast, growing ways of de-emphasizing the competitive aspect, making it about everyone pooling their resources, working together and attacking these puzzles in a way that’s cognitively rewarding and connects to interesting stories about the world.

SH: And being collaborative. 

YR: Yeah. And all of these things started off being about being able to connect with people; about not knowing what the show called The Simpsons is that people are talking about, and wanting to be able to have conversations about The Simpsons with them, and it’s never really moved away from that. But I think maybe the thing that is getting under my skin is this notion of quizzing as the world of “useless knowledge”, of “marginalia”, of “trivia” and so on. 

And I mean, there’s a certain point where I have to say it’s pretty clear that I have demonstrated that I have lots of useful knowledge. I’ve spent my whole life as a social psychologist; I know the fundamental attribution error, I know the biases in person perception, the very ones that are being applied to me. I understand where they come from. I’m willing to teach about them. My whole life I’ve been wanting to teach. I don’t gather knowledge with the goal of keeping it to myself and being “smarter” than people in that sense. I gather it so that I can have credibility when I share it with others. And I want to share it because I believe it’s useful. I believe it’s useful. 

All of social psychology, but especially the things we’ve touched on: biases in person perception, the psychometric classical test theory, the ways in which certain types of tests of knowledge are less tests of true ability than others (because of variance and so on). These are all things that I know about because I studied them extensively. It’s part of my coursework and my academic work. And they clearly are things that people out there don’t know – and would benefit from knowing, because it would make them understand the world in a more accurate way. 

And also, both through my academic studies and my personal experience, I’ve learned what racism really looks like. 

I understand all of these ways in which people blot out other human beings’ humanity by replacing a narrative that is related to their actions with a fake narrative that is convenient because it allows you to ignore what they have to say and not listen to them. Quizzing – both writing and answering quizzing questions – is very much about the act of listening. But that act is central not just to quizzing; it’s central to being a good human being in general. And it’s fundamental. There are lots of people out there who consider themselves non-racist or even anti-racist, but they’re not willing to listen. They want to tell me–I tuned it out after a while, but on my social media, people just lined up to tell me about my experiences, people who weren’t there. 

SH: Oh, how kind of them.

YR: Yes, exactly! Right before I started blocking that, there was one I engaged with, who I very bluntly told, I gave examples of the things he was talking about and I said, “You don’t have any knowledge of these things, but you still think this is a conversation where it’s my job to learn from you, rather than the other way around”. And he said something about my “candour”, which is one of those codes used when people basically are calling you rude and uppity, but they won’t say that in those words. And then a white man – one of my Facebook friends – came in and said basically the exact same things, and then the original guy apologised and said that he was feeling “sheepish.” 

SH: That’s telling.

YR: Yeah. It’s telling. There are some very obvious lessons there, including ones about the role of white people as allies and their knowing that their privilege means they’ll be listened to, and what are they going to do with that? 

There’s another lesson there, too. So many people say that they want to not be racist. They want to learn how to not be racist, and it would be nice if they had some alarm or some kind of signal that would tell them, “Hey, you’re doing something racist right now.” 

And I think there is a lesson there, because when you are a person in a privileged situation who hasn’t listened to the person you’re talking to – and who doesn’t have any specialised expertise that would give you something to teach them – but you still feel like you’re helping them out by explaining their situation to them? That is what it feels like to be a racist doing a racist thing. 

SH: Is it analogous to ‘mansplaining’? Is that a similar phenomenon, do you think? 

YR: Yeah, I suppose so. But obviously there are all kinds of casual things that happen in conversation. But separate from that, there is also that feeling that you get inside when you genuinely believe you’re helping someone – that you’re educating them about how the world works – which essentially positions you as the adult and them as the child. 

And when that person is A) a grown man with three master’s degrees and B) someone who has actually gone through these experiences that you haven’t gone through (and that you’ve made no attempt to listen to him explain), maybe you shouldn’t feel good about supposedly helping him, and you shouldn’t feel angry about him not being sufficiently “grateful” to you for your help. 

There’s so much ‘concern trolling’ (this disguised compassion) and one of the most pernicious forms is the whole “I’m sorry you feel that way…” 

SH: I HATE that! That’s a non-apology. If anyone ever says that, it really gets my hackles up because that’s not what an apology is. “Oh, I’m sorry if you had a problem with it”; It’s back on you; your fault, not mine. That’s not an apology. No, no, no. An apology is “I did wrong. This is what I did wrong. I acknowledge the hurt or pain it caused to the people who were pained or hurt, and this is what I will do so that doesn’t happen again.” That’s a proper apology. It’s not, “Sorry if you took it that way – Jeez you’re oversensitive, aren’t you?” Oh no. 


And that’s where we’ll leave our chat for today… And oh, I’m so sorry if YOU have a problem with that! 😉

We’ll see you back here next Tuesday for the conclusion of our discussion, 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!

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