I suppose I’ve been dreading this post. I want to create some kind of denouement, something that ties it all together, but life goes on, and now it’s ten days after Arthur lost, and if I don’t just lay down some word-spackle my whole Jeopardy narrative edifice is going to tip over.
It seemed pretty clear that he was not going to make it the whole day from the beginning. He was tired (that infamous Podium Lean became more pronounced), strung out, not nearly refreshed enough from the sleep that he’d managed to snatch from jet lag and sheer emotional burnout. His strategy, while excellent and efficacious, required a level of intensity that was very hard to maintain. He started getting beaten to the buzzer more, buzzing in on clues he wasn’t sure of (and getting them wrong), losing tons of money on Daily Doubles.
The last couple games of his run were brutally long. In one, a single light of the eleventy billion festooning the grid over the set died and one of those lifting machines had to be brought in (stage hands laying rugs and ramps carefully before it lest it smudge the perfectly shiny floor) and the bulb elaborately changed, a process that took upwards of ten minutes. In the last one, Diana, who I’m sure is very nice but came off as kind of excitable and fragile, nearly passed out a couple of times and had to be fussily attended by various contestant wranglers for long periods where she got to sit, relax, drink juice, etc. while Arthur and the other woman stood and sweated and fidgeted. All this stuff gets edited out of the final episode you see on TV, and so his collapse seems even more precipitous than it actually was. By the end of the last game it was past lunchtime, everyone was exhausted and irritable, and we decided to just go home once he’d been released from Jeopardy’s clutches.
Which took a long time. I don’t think I fully understood the historic nature of his run until after we were back in Ohio. Arthur’s mom and I got to meet the producer, who introduced himself and shook our hands, which clearly wasn’t something he did for every contestant’s audience supporters. And he was held back in the bowels of the studio for a long time while we sat outside on the front steps, waiting and gossiping and watching one of the tech crew take a smoke break. When he finally emerged he said they had interviewed him for the website and posterity.
Arthur’s mom and her friend and Arthur and I all made our way out to the friend’s car and sank into our seats. Arthur was wearing a Jeopardy baseball cap with the words “GET A CLUE!” embroidered on the back. He had a small swag bag with all the pink carbon-paper receipts for the money Jeopardy owed him now, totals and dates written out neatly. I thought it was funny that, in this day and age, a physical invoice was still necessary. We went to lunch. I remember exactly zero things about that lunch; I couldn’t tell you where we went, what we ate, or anything that was said to save my life. Arthur could have stayed on and watched the final two games of the day, but he was so wiped out he looked ready to faint. We went back to his mom’s house and lay the hell down again.
Then it was just a matter of keeping the results under wraps until now. Which I’ll admit was incredibly hard sometimes. Our immediate families knew pretty quickly (Arthur waited until Thanksgiving to break it to his side) and I caved and told a couple of friends and cousins, after swearing them to secrecy, as January 28th approached. Nobody ratted on us and spread it all over social media, for which I’m intensely grateful.
Our whole family purposely kept the results a secret from my grandmother, a religious Jeopardy watcher, so that she could experience the joys and sorrows in real time, and also so she wouldn’t tell every single person she knew. I called her a few times during his run and we talked about how she was a minor celebrity in her own right at the assisted living home because “that’s my grandson-in-law!!!!”
Arthur was in New York City the night of his loss because Good Morning America had signed some kind of NDA with Jeopardy that allowed them to learn when his run would end and schedule an interview for the following day. He had a pizza party in his hotel room with NYC friends while I watched with my parents and little brother at home. It was painful, but not as bad as I’d thought it would be — for one, Arthur’s fanbase on The Twitters had grown enormously over the weeks, beginning to drown out the haters for which he had originally taken to social media. The upwelling of support and love and good wishes from total strangers was heartwarming.
How he became a media darling is a complex question. America likes disruptive young innovators who burst in and shake things up, and despite all his protesting and explaining he was repeatedly shoehorned into the “Moneyball” role by writers and interviewers alike. The story began with his witty and rapid-fire responses to the haters of Twitter, one part sincere, one part self-effacing and one part swagger. He was the Jeopardy villain people seemed to love to hate. Afterward was the backlash to the backlash, people purposely stepping forward and declaring their approval in order to go against the prevailing narrative. Through all this he and I stayed as on top of the story as possible, though I’ll admit my involvement was minimal after the first couple days. Nobody wants to interview the Jeopardy Wife, and I’m fine with that.
Whether it was Cold War anxiety or a hidden strain of OCD running through the population which reacted hysterically to the idea of taking the categories out of order, I think what kept fans and media types coming back was Arthur’s articulateness, his humor, his earnestness and willingness to explain exactly what he did, how he did it, and who he took his tactics from. His liberal sharing of credit brought the mechanics of the game itself, and its dedicated community of fans and hobbyist analysts, into the spotlight, and America looked at one of its favorite fusty old syndicated shows in a different way.
I could try to do some kind of massive link roundup, but the internet being what it is, half of those are going to be dead in a few years, anyway. Arthur won the third largest amount in regular play in the game’s history, and the third largest number of games, and spawned what I’m pretty sure were hundreds of articles by the end, though many were scraped and reprinted. His presence on the internet in this three-month period couldn’t be fully erased if someone tried.
SO WHAT ARE YOU GUYS GOING TO DO WITH THE MONEY, SAID A LOT OF PEOPLE?????!!!!!??????
I dunno. What do you do with a huge windfall that isn’t going to make you regret all your decisions in ten years? In one sense it feels like back pay for the lives we almost lived, the ones we expected, making up for the period during our entire twenties when we felt like the world had promised us good jobs and satisfaction if we only worked hard enough, tried hard enough — and then didn’t deliver. But the recession screwed just about everyone our age, and most people aren’t going to get that lost income and complacency back, not if they wait their whole lives. We are always going to be an entire generation scarred by this struggle that still hasn’t ended, might not ever end for us. So I’m not being flippant when I say that the best place for that money is “the safest goddamn investments we can find, until we come up with a better idea.”
I am haunted by the constant feeling that it could all vanish at any moment, the way the bottom dropped out of the economy just as I was beginning to search for a job, severely disabled by pain and fatigue. I don’t know if Arthur feels exactly the same, but I know he struggled horribly with the worthless feeling that comes from being overeducated and unemployed in freaking Washington, DC, a city that was supposed to be bursting with jobs at the time. We are both excessively cautious, excessively cheap (ask me about the cool chair I fished out of someone’s trash, or the argument we had to have last fall before Arthur would let me buy him new underwear) and excessively reluctant to commit to a mortgage or other large purchase.
We don’t even know if we’ll stay in Cleveland, though as a low-cost city with a lot of amenities it lends itself nicely to our cheap-chic lifestyle. The addictive joy of money for us is possibilities — the idea that we can drop our lives here and go zipping off to something completely different, the way we shook D.C. off our boots and transplanted to the Midwest; the idea that instead of worrying constantly about whether or not I’m contributing to the family coffers right now, I should shut the hell up and finish my novel; the idea that, we are at last exactly as prepared for life as we always thought we’d be at this age. We are an unstoppable power couple of awesome, ready to take on our thirties with the brass knuckles of optimism and hard work and the dragonbone plate armor of knowing we won’t go broke. And the sword of, uh, eloquence? Work with me, here.