A Controversial Jeopardy! Contestant Is Returning for the Tournament of Champions

Yogesh Raut will have another chance to prove his trivia knowledge in the Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions.

The empty Jeopardy! stage.
Photo: Sony Pictures Television

It’s hard to become a Jeopardy! celebrity … unless, of course, you’re already participating in Celebrity Jeopardy!

The concept of the long-running quiz show institution is so simple that it doesn’t leave much room for personality. Sure, we’ve gotten to know some super champs over the years like James Holzhauer, Amy Schneider, and GOAT-turned-host Ken Jennings. But most contestants come and go with little fanfare. That was not the case for Yogesh Raut.

This blogger, podcaster, and writer from Springfield, Illinois immediately popped off the screen during his first game on Jan. 11, 2023. The stoic contender was not shy about sharing his advanced level of trivia mastery. Raut had participated in so many prominent trivia tourneys (though he prefers the term “quizzing”) that he was already well-known on the scene. In the interview portion of his first episode, he shared an anecdote of how Jeopardy! super champion India Cooper once told him she was a big fan of his.

Yogesh Raut’s ambition was clear: he was here to win at least five consecutive games and become eligible for Jeopardy!‘s hallowed “Tournament of Champions.” Unfortunately for him, however, the only thing that game show fans enjoy more than witnessing hubris is witnessing hubris immediately backfire. Raut would go on to win three games, which is remarkably impressive all things considered, but still short of the five games necessary to become a super champion.

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The story may have ended there if it weren’t for that god damned internet. In a since-deleted Facebook post, Raut wrote extensively about his time on the show, viewers’ unkind response to him, and Jeopardy!‘s unearned status as premier event in American quizzing. Raut said, in part, of Jeopardy!:

“Jeopardy! is not the problem; its centrality to American society is. There will never be a healthy quizzing culture in this country until we learn to stop pretending that ‘Jeopardy!’ is important. The fact that actual quizzing continues to be a fringe subculture in the shadows is what allowed racists, misogynists, and outright sexual harassers to thrive in collegiate quizbowl for so long.”

To be clear, Raut’s missives about Jeopardy! did not come in a vacuum. He had been on the receiving end of rude fan commentary since the moment his first episode premiered, with viewers criticizing his perceived lack of humility. Still, criticizing an institution that had just awarded him $96,403 rubbed many the wrong way.

Rightly or wrongly, the post made Raut the rarest of Jeopardy! contestant archetypes: a villain. Jeopardy! hasn’t had many of those throughout the years, but fellow “Jeopardy! villain” James Holzhauer knows them when he sees them. The super champion welcomed Raut to the unofficial Fraternity of Jeopardy! Rogues by tweeting: “Anyone who’s ever used social media to criticize Jeopardy or its producers should get a lifetime ban from the show.”

For those unfamiliar with Holzhauer’s sense of humor (which appears to be about 90% of media that covered the tweet in question) he is being sarcastic there. Holzhauer himself delights in using social media to criticize Jeopardy! and its producers, and yet still gets invited back. And so too will Yogesh Raut be invited back.

Despite not winning the required five games to be considered eligible, Raut was invited to return for the Tournament of Champions anyway, which begins Friday, Feb. 23, 2024. His episode will air on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024 in which he will face off against Nick Cascone and Jake DeArruda.

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Though Jeopardy! is surely happy to have the controversial figure back on the Alex Trebek stage, it didn’t bend the rules of eligibility solely for him. Due to a severely interrupted filming schedule from the 2023 WGA strike, Jeopardy! has been unable to air a “normal” episode for the entirety of its 40th season thus far. Instead of the usual competition, the show has put forth several tournaments featuring former contestants answering old questions all vying for entrance into a super-sized tournament of champions. Both of Raut’s first round opponents won fewer than five games as well.

For fans unaware of the current context of Jeopardy!‘s tournament structure, Raut’s ToC appearance may come across as jarring. That’s something that Raut seems to be preparing for with a fresh Facebook post addressing the controversy.

But now that we all do know the context, let’s promise not to be weird about the whole thing. Game show villainy is good, in fact. And nothing is more sublime than niche drama confined to a small internet subculture. Whether you choose to call it “quizzing” or not, at the end of the day, this is all very trivial.

Feb. 26, 2024 Update

Yogesh Raut provided the following statement to Den of Geek:

“Jeopardy is a wonderful opportunity for my peers and I to play competitively and have fun on a national quizzing stage—and I’m excited to be a part of the upcoming Tournament of Champions.

While I certainly still stand by the notion that Jeopardy is not—and should not—be the pinnacle of the quizzing community, I want to emphasize my respect for the game and my fellow contestants. Jeopardy is just one part of the quizzing world and for elite quizzers, it’s not necessarily the end all be all. It’s a platform to compete and win money with the knowledge we have already proved ourselves to have.

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I also want to state that I have encountered immense amounts of discrimination during my time competing in quizzes all over the country, and while Jeopardy is not the sole problem, I refuse to stay silent about the way those experiences have shaped me, in hopes that others who come after me will bravely speak out about injustices they may face. I hope that we will work together to end this prejudice at every level in our community—locally, regionally, and nationally.

As I continue competing and quizzing, because I certainly do love this work, I will also continue to speak out against the bias that competitors of color face so that I can help pave the way for others from underprivileged groups who may feel afraid to voice their true feelings.”