It was the snap heard round the world: When Louis Virtel got a Daily Double right on Jeopardy!, he leaned back on his hip, adopted a happy smirk, and snapped victoriously. And thus a million animated GIFs were born.
Louis was one of my guests last month on The Sewers of Paris, a podcast about gay men and how entertainment has changed their lives. For Louis, appearing on a quiz show — and particularly Jeopardy! — was fated to be. Ever since he was a kid, he knew that he’d one day be on TV answering rapid-fire trivia questions.
He was raised in a family where quick wit, imagination, and memory were all rewarded. He would watch quiz shows with family members, and told me on the podcast, “when I think about my childhood and playing games with people, that’s when I was happiest. It was cooperative and social, but you weren’t just talking to each other. You were learning about the other people from how they played.”
And that’s what the best games and game shows do: They’re more than just a system of rules and challenges, they’re a way for people to get to know each other through competition, challenges, and collaboration.
“It feels like a superpower when you memorize something that nobody else knows,” he said.
Even at school, Louis preferred the educational computer games that were quiz-show tie-ins. He’d gladly play the old MS-DOS Wheel of Fortune, with its three colors and beeping music, than anything more elaborate.
In college, he studied journalism, and wondered if there was a job out there where he could just be professionally interested in things. As luck would have it, he landed an internship at The Advocate and started interviewing celebrities. He found that he had a knack for finding the humanity under the celeb-hype, and before long he move to LA to become a full-time pop-culture expert.
The Jeopardy! appearance was years in the making. He auditioned in college; and then again when he moved to LA. It took two years for him to successfully make it through all the rounds to the show.
In the weeks leading up to his appearance, Louis crammed incessantly. But he also had to remind himself to relax. “You better enjoy this while it lasts,” he told himself, “because you’re going to be on Jeopardy! and then it will be over. Eat up this excitement while you have it.”
The snap happened so fast he didn’t even notice that it happened. It was only afterwards that he began to realize than people had noticed: At a bar, a man came up to him and simply said “thank you” for being visibly gay on television. Louis had demonstrated a form of gay pride that went beyond parades and parties — he showed the world what a smart, successful gay man looks like.
For now, he’s still basking in the post-snap glow. “For trivia people, Jeopardy! is The Hajj,” he said. “You don’t know what The Hajj has in store for you, but you have to make it once in your lifetime.”
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