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Big Tits for 600: The Ugly, Sexist Aftermath of Appearing on 'Jeopardy!' Big Tits for 600: The Ugly, Sexist Aftermath of Appearing on 'Jeopardy!'

Illustration by Nick Gazin

Big Tits for 600: The Ugly, Sexist Aftermath of Appearing on 'Jeopardy!'

After my appearance on the theoretically wholesome game show went viral, I received countless lewd and harassing Internet comments. Sadly, my experience is not unique.

When Tiombi Prince competed on Jeopardy! in December 2015, she was fulfilling a childhood dream.

But after the show aired, she was inundated with sexual comments. Men sent messages congratulating her on her two-day win—and told her how much they liked her lips. White men, she said, told her how much they liked black women. One man was so persistent—sending her his email address, his "stats"—that it reminded her of an experience she'd had of being stalked after a single, disastrous blind date.

Elizabeth Williams, who received her own share of Internet fame after referencing Cheers in her Final Jeopardy answer, told me her personal Facebook page had been posted in the comments section of a blog post about her entitled "This Chick On Jeopardy Is Batshit Crazy And It's A Huge Turn On." She was bombarded with hundreds of friend requests from men.

"I've never been the least bit prudish, but I definitely felt creeped out by all of their comments," Lynsey McMullen, who appeared on the quiz show in December, told me. (On Twitter, users told Lynsey she was "giving the buzzer a handjob" and that she looked "like someone you'd see in a MILF porn.") "There was also a part of me that made me feel like I had brought this attention upon myself," she said.

On Twitter, users told Lynsey she was 'giving the buzzer a handjob' and that she looked 'like someone you'd see in a MILF porn.'

Appearing on America's favorite quiz show—the show so staid and reliable that John Oliver quipped at last year's Emmys that it might just be the most permanent fixture on earth—can make female contestants feel that they are running a sexualized gauntlet of unwelcome tweets, emails, and Facebook messages replete with explicit sexual material. I know, because I was one of them.

When I taped the show in August, I knew I'd bombed and tried to salvage it with a joke. I wasn't prepared for that joke—a reference to "Turd Ferguson" from the old Saturday Night Live Celebrity Jeopardy! Sketches—to go viral when the show aired in September. Twitter chatter during the game led to an article on Uproxx, then more and more elsewhere, and a YouTube video whose views ballooned into the millions in the following days. The experience of going viral is brief but intense. It had the peculiar urgency of a dream—especially when I started reading the comments.

Read More: How Women Artists Deal with Online Abuse

Scrolling through the thousand or so comments on the (since-deleted) YouTube video, I felt my skin start to crawl. My joke on a quiz show had somehow devolved into a group discussion of my breasts.

Comments on a video of the author. Screenshot via YouTube.

"I was flipping through the channels and stopped as soon as I saw you. Your look was incredible. The hair, the tight shirt and the body it was wrapped around," wrote one would-be swain, in a message sent to my personal email address. "I'll have to leave my wife and kids, but they were getting on my nerves anyway," wrote a gentleman with a City of Santa Cruz email address.

With a kind of horrified fascination, I started reading the comments on other articles about me: One commentariat, as a whole, determined I was bangable, but only doggy ("Great meat cannons on that land beast"). Elsewhere: "A rack on a fat chick is like perfume on a pig. It wont [sic] make anything better." And: "the jews are like 'she was adorable' everyone else saw her for the pig she was [sic]." "That fat bitch has big pairs." "Mmmm...a gallon of milk in each breast." One man even went through my Instagram archive and commented on a number of photos, asking my cup size.

One commentariat, as a whole, determined I was bangable, but only doggy ('Great meat cannons on that land beast').

It was a discordant, but consistent, note in the strange crescendo of those few heady days, before a video of a rat dragging a pizza slice supplanted me as the next viral sensation. On the one hand, it was thrilling to be the object of so much desire, but on the other hand, it was disconcertingly aggressive. I felt unbalanced—not quite at home in my suddenly much-discussed body. I felt claustrophobic in my own flesh: Each positive headline about me gave rise to waves of anxiety, as I considered what I knew the comments would contain. I was suddenly in the spotlight, and though I had worn my sister's fancy navy-blue dress on game day, I felt naked—found too wanted, and wanting—against the anonymous torrent of words.

That same weekend, in an effort to distance myself from the girl in the ubiquitous photos—that girl with the plunging neckline and the self-satisfied grin, brown curls frizzing down to plump shoulders—I cut my hair into a severe pixie. I looked like a pudgy version of Mia Farrow in "Rosemary's Baby." I started wearing a leather motorcycle jacket I'd bought for $15 on the street in Brooklyn. I wore it at work and at home, as if I had another, tougher skin. I changed all of my social media profile pictures, hoping to render myself unrecognizable.

Soon after, when I joined an online group for fellow Jeopardy! alumnae, I discovered that, with the exception of the Turd Ferguson viral thing, my experience had not been all that unique: I began to notice that other women had experienced the same bombardment, and some of them had felt the same crimson-faced confusion about how to react.

There were thousands and thousands of tweets to me and about me. Most were about my breasts.

Liz Fritz, a 27-year-old contestant Twitter dubbed "the Jeopardy! Porn Star," told me she'd "dieted, trained for a 10K race, and made sure [her] hair and nails were on point" before her appearance—the one thing she felt she could control. "But I had no idea just how intense the response would be. There were thousands and thousands of tweets to me and about me. Most were about my breasts, and I believe they were intended to be compliments," she said.

Kaya Chua, a transgender woman who competed last April, told me she encountered "quite a bit of outright transphobia" on social media after her appearance. "Lots of speculation about certain aspects of my body, comments about my voice and hands," she said.

In fact, nearly every female Jeopardy! contestant that I spoke to talked about receiving one form of unwelcome sexual attention or another, which most of them hadn't expected when appearing on a show they'd loved since childhood.

I decided to ask male contestants, via a mixed-gender social media group for Jeopardy! alumni, whether they'd received similar levels of sexual commentary. One male contestant, who asked that I not use his name, told me he'd received multiple solicitations from men for "nether region" pictures since his initial appearance on the show. Another reported several "PG-13" come-ons; one received a naked selfie from a female fan; a third mentioned a "mash note" he'd received.

The scum of the internet are just not threatened by another dude getting attention, generally speaking.

While most male contestants in my informal survey hadn't received aggressive sexual commentary, they weren't exempt from Twitter bullying: male contestants were told they seemed autistic or like school shooters. Arthur Chu, one of the most successful contestants in Jeopardy's history, said people wrote that he was a virgin who would spend his winnings on prostitutes.

But on the whole, the difference between men and women's post-Jeopardy! experiences was stark. "I was not sexually objectified ENOUGH for my taste," one male contestant wrote.

Familiar warnings about cyberbullying tell us about the ease of lobbing insults from behind a screen. But why target Jeopardy!—most famous for its rigid format and showcasing of esoteric knowledge? There's a loose collective of Twitter users who live-tweet the show at #Jeopardy each weeknight, surprisingly enough. There are message boards and subreddits devoted specifically to the show. Overall it seems to excite, online, a public version of "playing from the couch"—which includes, to too many male commentators, the right to publicly analyze the appearance of female contestants.

"The scum of the internet are just not threatened by another dude getting attention, generally speaking," viral contestant Louis Virtel offered.

Those men don't own me. I own me and determine how I behave and how I present myself

Other women—like Amanda Hess, Anita Sarkeesian, and Congresswoman Katherine Clark—have spoken out about the ways women can be the subjects of disproportionate and gendered harassment online. None of the women I spoke to, myself included, had expected their spot in a family-friendly, early-evening trivia show to earn them a toxic mixture of sexualized opprobrium.

And yet, as I set out to better understand my own experience, and those of other women who had sought out America's most famous trivia gauntlet, I was heartened by the one thing I did not find: regret. Not one of the women I spoke with regretted their decision to appear on Jeopardy!, fulfilling childhood dreams in some cases, paying off student debt in others. Despite the chagrin-inducing—and sometimes downright unsettling—responses we received, each of us had reveled in the change to engage in intellectual competition, to shake Alex Trebek's hand, and, in my case, to strike a blow for doofuses everywhere.

"Those men don't own me. I own me and determine how I behave and how I present myself," said Tiombi Prince. "I refuse to have my accomplishments diminished."

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